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USA 1979
Directed by
Hal Ashby
130 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Being There

Being There is a clever satire on the human propensity to be taken in by appearances. Peter Sellers plays Chance, a mentally retarded gardener who has lived his entire life inside the walls of an old Washington inner city town house.  When the owner dies, lawyers tell Chance that he can no longer live there.  So he packs a suitcase and heads into a world he only knows via a television screen.  As chance, so to speak, would have it, he meets super-wealthy  society hostess Eve Rand, wife of dying billionaire power-broker Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas). Because of the fine tailoring of his inherited suits and his good diction Chance's simple-minded utterances are interpreted by all as profound insights and before long he is part of the President (Jack Warden)’s inner circle.

Although at times Being There which is scripted by Jerzy Kosinski from his own novel feels a little padded out, particularly with recurring references to black and white popular culture it brings off its premise skillfully and elegantly and without the kind of fantastic occurences of Forrest Gump with which it bears considerable conceptual resemblance. Here the humour comes not from anything that Chance says or does but the way in which everyone else misinterprets his vacuity as profundity, his obliging smile as undersatnding, his lack of response as canniness. Being There rather than being a celebration of low IQ is a wry laugh at the limitless human capacity for self-deception.

Which is why the ending feels rather incomplete. One wants the pay-off of seeing all these (self-) important and powerful people deflated and how they try to restore the veneer of authority but all we get is Magritte-like portrait of a Holy Fool.

Sellers in his final film role does a fine job the lead (he was nominated for an Oscar but it went to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs Kramer) whilst the rest of the ensemble cast are as good (Douglas won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar).




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