Review: Being There (1979)


This is much how I have always imagined politics to be!

Screenplay By: Robert C. Jones & Jerzy Kosinski
Directed By: Hal Ashby

When I think of comedy my mind tends to veer towards gut busting laughter, but in reality not all comedy is of the gut busting variety. My favorite TV show and the funniest media enterprise of all time is easily Seinfeld. There are moments on that show of gut busting humor, but there are also plenty of sly, subtle humor. Being There is quite different from Seinfeld in delivery and content, but it is the same in how it draws its laughs from the viewer. It has moments that are gut bustingly hilarious, but more often than not it is observational in its humor. Someone walks and talks with Peter Sellers and you can’t help but laugh at what Sellers is doing with his character.

I will admit to not being the most knowledgeable on Peter Sellers, this is only the second film I have seen him in. But, after Being There and Dr. Strangelove Or: How I learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb I have no qualms labeling him one of the best comedic actors I have ever laid eyes on. Being There works because of Sellers, and that is not a bit of hyperbole. It isn’t the best concept, nor is it incredibly witty or feature deft direction. That’s not to say that it is deficient in any way, but if you remove Sellers Being There falls flat on its face. His performance is a subtle one, there isn’t a single moment where he overacts or reaches for a laugh. Sellers plays it all with a straight face, and near the end he does something else, he adds humanity behind his eyes. Sellers delivery is superb, he never breaks tone, his face never falters, his words are always measured and they fit the comic drive of the film perfectly.

It has been debated what exactly Being There is satirizing. Maybe it’s target is politics, I happen to think this is true, or maybe it is TV, or 70’s culture, or high society? It can be any of the above and at various times it satirizes all of the above. This is what makes Being There a brilliant satire, it doesn’t take sides, it doesn’t really have an agenda. Any subject is open for a dash of humor, left, right, man, woman, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing wrong with a satirical film that has an agenda, but I enjoyed the ambiguity of Being There. It was refreshing to not be able to pinpoint exactly who or what was being attacked at any given time.

If you want to laugh then I don’t think you can go wrong with Being There. This is the second film from Hal Ashby I have seen, the first being Harold And Maude. Both are funny, but in very different ways. Comedy can be many things, but most of all it needs to be funny. Hal Ashby has proven to be funny, Peter Sellers has proven to be funny, and Being There is definitely funny enough to warrant a viewing.




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