This was the first time I had ever seen Hal Ashby’s Being There and it didn’t take long for me to begin asking myself just how in the hell Forrest Gump earned so much praise 15 years after this film was released when this film does it better than Gump ever could have. Yet, the Tom Hanks starring Gump goes on to win six Oscars while Being There is reserved for those that remember there were films made before the birth of the Internet and they still hold a greater value than most any film made today could. Sure, Being There went on to win an Oscar for Melvyn Douglas in a supporting role, but the fact many will never see this film is just a shame.
In his second to last film role, Peter Sellers stars as the slow-witted Chance a man who finds himself left to his own devices and ultimately in the company of the President of the United States comparing the American economy to gardening. Of course, the twist is Chance doesn’t know that’s what he’s doing and therein lies the comedy gold. Chance is not a bright man, but unlike the Gump comparison he is not portrayed as slow or dimwitted, at least not to the characters in the film. Being There is a movie where the audience is in on the joke, but the people interacting with Chance are completely oblivious, and outside of a few quirks to his character he really doesn’t give them much reason to think he is anything less than a straight-to-the-point kind of guy. As he chats it up with foreign dignitaries at a cocktail party and openly admits to not being able to read or write and confesses his addiction to television (his only previous experience with the outside world) not a one grasps the sincerity in it all and reads it as metaphor. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I was laughing with this film as it relies on the audience to fill in the blanks. It’s fantastic!
I have only seen a small dose of Peter Sellers on screen including all the Pink Panther films and obviously Dr. Strangelove, but he is an actor I will soon dedicate myself to exploring even further. From Inspector Clouseau, his three roles in Strangelove and here as Chance they are all roles entirely separate of one another. Chance only works because of how Sellers played the part. There is sincerity, kindness, understanding and compassion in everything he brings to the character and you can see it in his eyes, an often overlooked asset of an actor’s toolbox. Sellers has it all here and his interaction with Shirley MacLaine is top notch.
This was actually the second film of MacLaine’s I have watched recently after giving The Apartment a spin a few days ago and I can’t help but wonder who will be the next child actress to really wow from childhood to adulthood as MacLaine is still going after receiving a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in Lifetime’s “Coco Chanel” biopic. Drew Barrymore is the only child actress of late that comes to mind and she’s not even in the same class.
In terms of special features this disc is actually quite light, which is a surprise they wouldn’t even try and get a film scholar or Sellers biographer in to record a commentary track or even get MacLaine in to talk extensively on the new “Memories from Being There” featurette. This is the exact difference between a Criterion Collection release of classic films and a studio release. It’s shocking to me a studio cares less about their films than does a third party, but I guess that’s the breaks.
I will say the featurette isn’t half bad as Melvyn Douglas’s granddaughter Illeana Douglas (whom I remember most from her one performance on “Seinfeld”) guides us through her experience running around the set of the film. She would have been around 14-years-old at the time and it is a good bit of commentary and also lends itself well to the alternate ending included on the disc. To go along with that there are a pair of deleted scenes that really did nothing for me as well as a “gag reel” of which most of it can be seen during the closing credits of the film.
Nope, this is a disc you are buying for the movie alone and it is well worth it. In terms of picture the film looks fantastic outside of one outfit Chance wears at the beginning of the film. A pair of yellow pajamas come across so grainy and ugly you almost think your television screen has fur on it. I have seen bright reds get this grainy on Blu-ray before but this was my first experience with yellows and with it happening almost immediately it is quite shocking, but the rest of the film is just fine and this is one I would recommend as a definite buy.
Being There is not funny because of jokes and hip one-liners, it’s just funny, while at the same time being quite touching and sweet. This is a film I can’t imagine not enjoying the same if not more every time you see it. To the point, I loved it.