Sunday, 31 July 2011

Harold and Maude

Year: 1971
Director: Hal Ashby
Screenplay: Colin Higgins
Starring: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Charles Tyner
Running Time: 91 minutes
Genre: Comedy, romance

Screenplay: 20 year old Harold Chasen (Cort) lives with his very wealthy but overbearing mother (Pickles). Harold is obsessed with death, drives a hearse and his favourite pastimes are staging elaborate faked suicides and going to funerals, even those of complete strangers. At one of these funerals he meets 79 year old Maude Chardin (Gordon) who shares his hobby of attending funerals. Maude however is a fun-loving free spirit who is dedicated to living life to it's fullest and always strives to "try something new every day".
Under pressure from his mother to visit a psychiatrist (G. Wood), join the Army or get married, to which end she sets Harold up with a succession of blind dates, Harold develops a strong bond with Maude which quickly blossoms into romance.

Opinions: Originally conceived by screenwriter Colin Higgins as a twenty minute student film, this film was not particularly successful on it's initial release, but has more recently become regarded as a cult classic. In a way it's a movie ahead of it's time, and is kind of a forerunner of the hip, offbeat indie comedies of Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne and Jason Reitman. However, it is very much a product of it's time, contrasting the nihilism of the Vietnam Genration with the hard-won optimism of those who had lived through the horrors of World War II (Maude is a concentration camp survivor).
The film is well performed with Bud Cort impressive as the morbid Harold and Ruth Gordon walking away with the whole movie as the eccentric Maude. Vivian Pickles is hilarious as Harold's super-snob mother. Charles Tyner also provides a memorable appearance as Harold's gung-ho military uncle.
This is a genuinely warm-hearted and tender film which, for all it's eccentricities, celebrates human nature with all it's flaws and virtues. It is also very funny with numerous laugh out loud sequences, although a lot of the humour is of a very dark variety. It also features a great soundtrack from Cat Stevens.

"A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they are not dead, really. They're just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can."
- Maude (Ruth Gordon) in Harold and Maude

Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon are Harold and Maude

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