Being There (1979)

Having only a passing awareness of Peter Sellers and his brand of comedy, I can say that I wasn’t as bowled over by his understated performance here as critics were upon the movie’s release. He delivers one of those overly mannered, “actorly” performances that Bill Murray has been coasting on for the last two decades, and for most of the movie’s duration, he’s a bit on the dull side. Luckily, he’s surrounded by top-tier talent that injects life into the movie’s arm once in a while and keeps things moving along relatively pleasantly: Shirley MacLaine is the perfect foil for Sellers, bringing earthy warmth and a no-nonsense candor that’s as natural to her as it is delightful on screen, while Melvyn Douglas provides the movie’s emotional core with an alternately forceful and gentle performance that reveals unforeseen emotional depths. By the time the movie arrives to its conclusion we finally see why Sellers chose to play his role the way he did, providing an impressively effective and unexpectedly satisfying catharsis in a single gesture that makes the entire performance snap into place. It’s ultimately one of those movies that needs to be imbued in its entirety before it can be digested, and while that can be a frustrating experience sometimes, here it’s ultimately a rewarding and worthwhile one.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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