BEING THERE, judging by its impassioned defenders on various Internet sites, had a profound effect on a number of people. This is one of those no-win movie argument situations where if you disagree with the champions, you’re assumed to be intellectually inferior, or at least incapable of ‘getting it’. I have to fall back on my defensive perimeter pointing out that every movie (or creative endeavor of any sort)—no matter how well done or popular, empty or wasteful— will have someone out there who thinks it’s either hogwash or nirvana. From Citizen Kane to Police Academy, The Wizard of Oz to The Wild Bunch, there is some person—or an entire flock– out there who will be bored, offended or otherwise pissed off, touched, stunned or redeemed by the work, and they will let you know you’re a moron if you like it, or if you don’t. Breathe deep, cold-hearted orb…….
Here, I have to join the naysayers side, as this movie doesn’t cut it for me. I don’t think people who enjoy it are fools, though I do wonder that they’re loading it up with more importance than it can carry. I “get it”, and it’s both too much and not enough.
So, if you love this movie and are staggered and stimulated by it—hey, fine, I’m happy for you. Furthermore, (1) I like Peter Sellers, (2) enjoy Shirley MacLaine and Melvyn Douglas (3), do appreciate irony, satire and forms of humor beyond pie-fights, and (4) social commentary is great.
Girded, I now meekly put forth that for me this 1979 comedy would have been much better served by being 40 minutes shorter. It’s 130 minutes long, and moves at a glacial pace, each scene basically repeating the uncomfortable experience of being around ‘Chauncey Gardener’ (Sellers), an empty dope who is mistaken for a genius by the gullible and powerful. It makes its point/s, then does so again and again….(sideline–apparently Shirley’s masturbation scene was done 17 times: I wonder what the story is behind that? Commitment?).
It was a hit, making a healthy $31,000,000 and drawing excellent reviews, giving Sellers a Best Actor nomination, and an Oscar win in the supporting category for Douglas. I was amused when I first saw it, many years ago, but a recent re-peek had me fidgeting after a short while. Director Hal Ashby sledgehammers the TV-is-everywhere gag, and the freshness from that snark is long past its due-date. Sellers stays within character, but like Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, (kind of a cousin), it’s a bit much to put up with this one-note dullard, no matter how efficient the acting. Subplots are extraneous and unfunny. To each their own. With Jack Warden, Richard A. Dysart, Richard Basehart and David Clennon.