Sunday, February 28, 2010

If you want to be freaks, be freaks...

Nope, it's not Benjamin Braddock and Mrs. Robinson. It's Harold and Maude.

There are some films that I simply don't like. They leave a bad taste in my mouth. This happens when I don't like the characters and their motives or the general message of the film. Harold and Maude happens to be one of those films.

Yes, it's a beloved cult classic. If it were made today, it would probably premiere at Sundance and star big-name indie cred actors, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Patricia Clarkson, though I would like to think that any young man who can win a date with someone as gorgeous as Patricia Clarkson is extraordinarily lucky.

Harold and Maude has been compared to The Graduate, which is an unfair comparison, considering how superior The Graduate really is. The Graduate captures a time and place and a satirical mentality disguised by understandable human emotions. There hasn't been a film quite like The Graduate since its release back in 1967. The only comparable thing about those two films are their wonderful soundtracks; The Graduate had Simon & Garfunkel sing its existential blues and Harold and Maude had Cat Stevens sing its free-spirited hues.

That said, Harold and Maude is a film that doesn't know its purpose. Deep down, it wants to question life and death, yet it doesn't. Directed by Hal Ashby, who also directed Being There, a film I didn't particularly like either, Harold and Maude is another film that acknowledges confusion, desires, life, death, dreams, and despair, but it doesn't confront it. Instead, it prods along rather aimlessly.

The film chronicles the gentle friendship between twenty-something Harold and seventy-nine year-old Maude. Harold (Bud Cort) performs fake suicide acts (hanging, drowning, cutting his hand) to get his rich mother's attention. Maude (Ruth Gordon) is a free-spirited senior citizen who intends to live her life to fullest, which means stealing cars and posing nude for paintings. How odd! How quirky! Did I mention they meet at a funeral? Their relationship takes a romantic turn.

But the romance doesn't bother me. No, not at all. They seem like they genuinely care for each other, which is nice. Who am I to be against a loving relationship? What bothers me are the characters themselves. Harold is a two-dimensional, lovesick idiot who seems unwilling to actually do something with his life. He's just an unsympathetically spoiled, privileged kid.

Maude wants to live on the stealing other people's cars? What a good idea! I'm sure you can find so much fulfillment by doing that. Sure, she's lived an interesting life, but what she does as a hobby causes distress to many people. And no, driving dangerously is not funny. At all. I don't find little old ladies doing horrible things cute or likable, sorry.

And, of course, the stupid ending made me mentally roll my eyes and mumble, "Whatever." Sure, Vivian Pickles does great comedic work here as Harold's self-absorbed mother and the Cat Stevens soundtrack kicks major ass, but Harold and Maude is ridiculous on so many levels that it makes no sense why it has become a revered piece of cinema. C-


  1. Hal Ashby made three of the best films of all time: BEING THERE, SHAMPOO and THE LAST DETAIL, the latter of which is to this day the most amazing work Jack Nicholson ever did.

    I don't care about H&M, either, though.

  2. @Matt
    I'm glad we agree on H&M.

    I don't care for Being There. It's an odd little film with some good performances. I haven't seen it in a while, though. I just remember the really out-of-place closing credits.

    I've been wanting to see Shampoo for quite some time. I haven't been overly impressed with the Warren Beatty and Julie Christie collaborations. McCabe & Mrs. Miller was a big WTF and Heaven Can Wait is good, but overrated, Oscar-wise.

    I've always found Jack Nicholson a little overrated. We're watching Chinatown in film class right now. I remember not liking it too much when I saw it several years ago but I'm liking it now. So. The Last Detail seems interesting.

  3. I haven't seen it, but I agree on your views on the graduate. nothing like it has ever been made since, and I hate films that try desperately to live up to it.

  4. I think most Hal Ashby films get better with second and third viewings (that's my experience with Shampoo anyways, although I loved Being There first time round) but I would agree Harold and Maude is overated by the film geeks and bloggers (I say that affectionately of course!)

    However I would like to see it a second time just to re-affirm my opinion but then i'd like to do that with many is often the case, so many films, so little time!

  5. i love love love the end when he's on the hill - best thing ever. most of the film i can take or leave, but it has some good moments. those moments being, basically-- everything involving cat stevens.

  6. @Burning Reels
    I've watched some films twice (involuntarily) and is surprised by how much I like it the second time around.

    I don't plan to revisit H&M anytime soon, but if I catch it on one of those Saturday nights where I'm suffering from a bad case of insomnia, perhaps I will watch it again.

    I agree. The Cat Stevens soundtrack is the best thing about this movie.