Sunday, November 25, 2012

Withnail & I

Withnail & I; black tragicomedy; UK, 1987; D: Bruce Robinson, S: Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown

London, autumn of '69. Two unemployed actors, the alcoholic Withnail and his unidentified friend, decide to take a "vacation" from their depressive lives so they take a trip to the countryside, to a secluded cottage of one of their's wealthy uncle, Monty. Once there, Withnail and his friend figure that the country side is not much of a holiday either since the cottage needs firewood and they food. They contact a poacher and treat themselves at Monty's expense when he visits them one day. Monty mistakenly thinks Withnail's friend is gay, but he talks him out of it. Back in London, Withnail's friend finally gets a job, the leading role in a play.

Bruce Robinson's feature length film debut, "Withnail & I" is a cult independent black (tragic) comedy that enjoys a high reputation - Roger Ebert listed it among his Great Movies, Total Film and The Independent ranked it as one of the greatest British comedies - yet despite a lot of good stuff in it, the movie as a whole is not particularly fun nor engaging, while alcoholic Withnail and his friend are not half as comical as Moore's alcoholic Arthur. What Robinson did right was to take the typical genre of a social drama - two unemployed people - but stubbornly refuse to display it as such, instead presenting it as a comedy that gains most through its comical dialogues ("I think the carrot is infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts, prostitutes for the bees"; the sequence where they first meet the farmer: "We've gone on holiday by mistake! We are in this cottage here, are you the farmer?" - "Stop saying that, Withnail! Of course he is the damn farmer!"; the unidentified friend eating coffee from a bowl of soup), but the major problem of the uneven storyline was still not appeased: the sole adventures of the two protagonists on a farm are simply not as good or charming or as fresh as they could have been. The grey London, which serves as the opening and closing frame of the story, is sadly not much different than the central part of the story set in the countryside, which hinted at far greater (comic-harmonius) potentials. However, due to the melancholic ending, which signalled the end of an era (the 60s) and highlighted the two protagonists' friendship, some retroactively remembered the whole movie fonder than it is, while Richard E. Grant is great as the grouchy Withnail.


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