Peter Sellers is an actor about whom I’ve heard quite a bit, especially in terms of praise for his comedic work. As part of my “quest” is to broaden my knowledge of the history of cinema, he is certainly an individual with whom I intend to continue to familiarize myself. One of his final films before his death, BEING THERE, is one of his more lauded works, so I decided to dive in to see how it struck me.
What I found was an old school farce that, when taken in total, is quite a funny movie, although with the straight-faced seriousness with which the characters conducted themselves, there weren’t many moments during the film where I found myself laughing. It’s the type of film where, as a scene ends and the absurdity of the situation hits you, that’s when you’re likely to find yourself chuckling at how things have evolved to that point.
BEING THERE is filled with misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and facts taken as metaphors, resulting in a situation whereby a man who is mentally deficient finds himself not only avoiding homelessness, but being regarded as an advisor and confidant to some of Washington D.C.’s most powerful individuals and, before its all said and done, even talked about as a potential Presidential candidate.
The praise Peter Sellers receives for his work here is well deserved. His dead-pan stare and child-like nature are spectacular as he interacts with other characters in a variety of situations. At one point when it was clear that there was a budding “relationship” between his character and the one portrayed by Shirley Maclaine, I was worried that it was going to come across awkward, but even the “love scene” between the two, such as it was, had the perfect level of awkwardness despite the fact that Sellers’ character had very little clue as to what was transpiring. For those of you who are reading this and thinking I’m describing something that is essentially rape, you’ll have to see the film to understand why it isn’t. I won’t go into the details, but I will say that the physical act never occurs between the two.
This is not a film I would widely recommend, because many people will find it too slow in the beginning, and perhaps not overly funny. While it’s certainly not a traditional comedy, this farce is executed quite well, and those willing to sit through it will be entertained.
My rating: 83 out of 100