Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Being There (Hal Ashby, 1979)


Hal Ashby’s Being There remains famous for its central conceit, that a developmentally-challenged middle-aged gardener who knows almost nothing of the real world might fall into the orbit of rich and powerful people who take his simplicity as a sign of serene analytical intelligence, such that he may even be destined for the Oval Office. The notion no doubt carries a certain dreamy appeal, but even allowing for the inevitable concisions and conventions of movie narrative, the film can only work at all by engaging in rampant fakery, for example by boiling down conversations and events which would spread over hours into a minute or two, or by having Chance start off in one improbably rarified high-end environment and then, once he’s expelled from there, luck out within a day into one that’s even more so. The film has its prophetic aspects in that a rampant idiot did indeed ascend to the Presidency in recent years, except that the angry, bitter, wrecking-ball reality of what we’re still living through makes Ashby’s benign conception seem even more irrelevant than it did at the time. Even Chance’s accidental wisdom, his supposed message of sticking it out through economic fall and winter in anticipation of the inevitable upturn of spring and summer, amounts to no more than counseled complacency (no doubt the burden of the fallow seasons wouldn’t fall too heavily on the plush lives depicted here). The film sustains a thin veneer of tastefulness, and Peter Sellers does as well with the unplayable character as can be imagined, but any assessment of this as an important or meaningful film must be rooted in Chance-level misapprehension. The film’s losers include Shirley MacLaine’s character Eve, defined as having almost no attributes other than that of being a rich man’s younger wife, distastefully falling for and offering herself to Chance within a few days of meeting him.

No comments:

Post a Comment