FRIDAY FILM REVIEW: Harold and Maude (1971)
Maili, an old friend of the blog (and truly a vanguard of romance reader bloggers) has extensive film knowledge and offered to write a review of a romantic film every Friday. I was delighted to accept. Henceforth, every Friday, we will feature a film review so that if you aren’t sure what to do on the weekend, this might provide you with an idea. We will be moving First Sale stories to Monday to accommodate our new addition to Dear Author. – Jane
Genre: Black comedy / Romantic comedy (US)
Dear Hal Ashby,
You and scriptwriter Colin Higgins passed away in the same year almost twenty one years ago, but your cinematic legacy still lives on. Especially your second directorial effort, Harold and Maude, which I’d describe as one of the best love stories in the history of cinema.
I wondered sometimes how the studio people reacted when you and Colin Higgins decided to film a love story about a suicidal rich-kid teenager and a 79-year-old feisty woman. Not to mention having this smart-dressed teenager Harold (Bud Cort) to hang himself in the living room during the film’s opening scene.
But as we quickly discover, it’s a fake suicide attempt to attract his socialite mother’s elusive attention. It clearly doesn’t work-‘and it’s happened before. As soon as Harold’s mother (Vivian Pickles) sees the noose around his neck, she says, “I suppose you think that’s very funny, Harold.” It becomes apparent that it might be a black comedy and it is.
Partaking in one of his bizarre hobbies, Harold attends a stranger’s funeral. There, he notices Maude (Ruth Gordon), an elderly lady with sharp wits and a tongue to match. To his shock, she nicks a car outside a funeral home. He’s intrigued. Could there be someone who’s weirder than himself? He meets her again at another stranger’s funeral. This time, Maude approaches him and discover they both like attending random strangers’ funerals, which delights her. Harold’s once again bemused when she impulsively steals a car after a funeral. Only this time, it’s his own car. An unlikely friendship is born.
Meanwhile, Harold’s exasperated mother forces him to visit a psychologist to deal with his emotional issues. She’s applying increasing pressure on him to join the Army to make him like the pride and joy of their family: Harold’s uncle, a decorated war veteran with a missing arm. His mother’s also busy with setting up blind dates for Harold to meet with potential brides. His mother’s planning his future without his say so. This increases Harold’s sense of alienation, which sees a rising number of his fake suicide attempts.
As he struggles against his mother’s strong will, his friendship with Maude grows when she introduces him to a new way of looking at life by dragging him into a number of gentle but madcap-filled adventures and holding thought-provoking conversations. Just like Harold, we slowly fall in love with this amazing larger-than-life pint-sized woman.
It’s not all witty quips and morbid funny scenes. There are poignant moments, such as a significant glimpse of the real reason why Maude has such a zeal for life, and the gradual romantic development of Harold and Maude’s relationship. I know many would gasp in horror at the idea of an elderly woman and a teenager in love, but you managed to coax excellent performances out of Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort to make us believe and root for Maude and Harold so strongly. You have also successfully married the permissive outlook of the doomed youth with the seemingly eternal optimism of those who have witnessed the darkest side of life.
This is why Harold and Maude still has a strong cult following today, and why it has a place in the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Romantic Comedy films last year. I honestly can’t find a flaw with this film. If there was one, I forget because the film’s strengths strongly overshadow its weaknesses.
You left us some memorable films, such as The Last Detail, Being There, and Coming Home, but Harold and Maude is the best gift you and Colin Higgins could possibly give. It’s such an uplifting story, which makes it a must-see. Especially for those who love feel-good films.
Be good, be bad & be safe,
Harold and Maude trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYxOWPzZXBM
Widely available on VHS and DVD.