Thursday, April 23, 2009

"There Is No Such Person"

Being There
Directed by Hal Ashby
Written by Jerzy Kosinski
Starring Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine

When I watched the complete series of Freaks and Geeks, I remember being surprised by how sad I felt when I came to the last episode. I thought the show was better than average, but it never grabbed me in any way that would have indicated I was going to be sad to see it go.

Similarly, there was nothing in the first two hours of Being There which alerted me to the sadness and joy I would feel in its closing ten minutes. Peter Sellers is simply perfect as Chance Gardener, an impossibly simple man who is swept up into the world of the elite, where his constant regurgitation of gardening facts is taken to be sage, philosophical advice. The movie is meant to be a satire, but it does not hit that mark.

I'll keep this short by telling you that it is an awkward movie, because the main character is hard to relate to. He feels nothing on a level that doesn't exist in real life. He is not a sociopath, yet he does not seem to feel much outside of the gentle joy he gets from tending his garden. But Sellers is brilliance, and should have walked home with the Academy Award for this. To convey nothing is a task no other actor would be as capable of, not to the extent he manages. He is not devoid of emotion; there is a scene at the end of the movie were he wells up just enough to show that he knows he is sad, and it's absolutely devastating to watch. The very end of the movie features a surprise I won't ruin here, but I can tell you it's more affecting than you'd have thought had you read about it before hand. Worth checking out for Sellers, and for those last ten minutes.

Grade: B

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