Withnail and I (1987)

Dir. Bruce Robinson
Starring: Richard E. Grant,

If I hadn’t known that Chris saw this, he would have been the first person I would have recommended this to, followed by Kevin and then Penny. I think Mitchell would be interested in this–I could see him really like this. I’d guess Marc would be lukewarm on this; ditto Tony. Don and Larri (who after reading the description on the cover decided not to watch this) would definitely not like this. There’s an outside chance that Jill and Joel would like this, but those chances are remote. I saw this because it was on the 1001 list. I think it’s a so-so pick.

The film has very little plot: In 1969, two out of work British actors, Withnail (pronounced Withnall), played by Richard E. Grant and “I” (his name is never mentioned), played by Paul McGann, decide to take a “holiday” at Withnail’s rich Uncle’s country cottage. The dialogue takes center stage and the actors bring it to life–especially Richard E. Grant and Ralph Brown, who plays a drug-dealer with a touch to the “wise-fool” in him. If you have a taste for British wit or if you like Richard E. Grant, then this is a must see.

I was going to describe this film as a precursor to Trainspotting and the Gen X slacker films that came after it, but that doesn’t seem quite right, as it essentially is a slacker film, albeit the characters are from the 60a. Made in the mid-80s about characters existing in the late 60s, the film and the characters feel completely contemporary. Strangely prescient and definitely a film that twenty and thirty somethings will be able to relate to. If they like the humor, they’ll love this.

I have mixed feelings about the humor. I didn’t find myself laughing very hard or often–although I did enjoy Grant and Brown’s performance–both deserving of Academy nominations at least. However, the film has memorable lines/scenes, but it would be funnier for me talking about it afterward.

Back to Grant and Brown’s performance. They really made the dialogue work: I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles. Brown has qualities of a Jim Ignatowski and Jeff Bridges’ “the Dude” Lebowski. The vocal quality, delivery and energy (low for Brown) just make it work. Grant is his over-the-top self, and it works. Grant’s larger-than-life style is interesting because its restrained enough to make his performances believable. I don’t feel like I’m watching a farce. I think he’s unique in that way. He also really good facial expressions, especially the one where he gives this wry smile that conveys a feeling of being appalled or scared, but trying to play it off. It’s hilarious.

Withnail and I
After the first 15 minutes of this movie, I thought to myself, “Reid thought I would like this movie? Bleh.” But it began to grow on me (in a good way, not like a fungus) and by the end I realized that I did enjoy it quite a bit.

There is definitely a Gen X slacker vibe going on, but with more drugs and less angst. Also, the two main characters did have hope and goals. The main characters have this intense relationship that the viewer senses is only for this time in their lives and and there is some question as to whether we are seeing the beginning of the end of their relationship.

Let’s just say I liked this film a lot more than The Rapture.

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