Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Withnail & I (1987) ****

R, 107 min.
Director/Writer: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown, Michael Elphick, Michael Wardle

“Withnail & I” is a glorious celebration of being drunk and being British. It follows the inebriation exploits of two young actors; one is also a scribe who documents their paranoia and poverty. He’s the “I” of the title. He will learn and grow. Withnail, on the other hand, is what he is.

Calling it a glorious celebration might paint an inaccurate picture if you’re looking just at the pictures. Their existence might seem sad, if you are just looking at their lives from a visual standpoint. Their apartment is tiny; their kitchen unclean; and there may be a rat living in the stove. Then they have the brilliant idea of spending a week in the country at a property of Withnail’s uncle. There’s nothing like a rainy English countryside getaway. They’re miserable, yet they’re glorious.

Withnail thinks much more of himself than he’s made; yet he continues to quote the classics. If drunken Brits go around quoting Shakespeare, shouldn’t American drunks go around quoting Hemingway, or Faulkner, or Twain at least. Alas, we are not as glorious.

To call this film “rich” would of course fly above the baseness of these men’s lives, yet they aspire to be rich. In doing so, they reach a plateau of some kind. It is sublime to hear them talk about and observe the failures of their lives, their fears, and their joys, as pathetic as they might be.

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