23-March-2006
A Movie Review of "Being There", from Steve Leslie

Upon recent reflection I was reminded of a very unique movie with screenplay by Jerzy Kosinski and based upon his novel.

"Being There" 1979 is a very difficult movie to characterize. Is it a political movie and thus an indictment against our political system. Is it a comedy that magically meanders from light to dark . Or is it just a movie with the intent to entertain. In the end the viewer is left with many many thoughts to pause and consider.

"Being There" was Peter Sellers' triumphant final film. It is a stately, beautifully acted satire with a premise that's funny but fragile. Chance, the hero of Jerzy Kosinski's novel and now his screenplay, is a slow-witted imbecile with a quiet childlike voice who has spent all his adult life in seclusion, working as a gardener and watching television as his sole source of entertainment.

Chance, who is played with brilliant understatement by Peter Sellers, is immediately mistaken for Chauncey Gardiner, an aristocratic businessman (because he wears his former benefactor's elegant hand-me-down suits) and witty raconteur (because he laughs at other people's jokes). He is admired for his fluent knowledge of Russian; this comes from nodding knowingly at a Soviet diplomat at a party. Chance also advices the President, and appears on something like "The Tonight Show." He is depicted as an economist noting the changing of the seasons means that all is well in the garden, and everyone mistakes this as a metaphor for the economy.

In the final scene we notice Mr. Gardiner walking away from the camera onto the surface of a pond. He continues without sinking once again puzzling the audience as to who is the real Chauncey Gardiner.

The other fine actors in Being There - Melvyn Douglas as a poignantly ailing rich man, Shirley MacLaine as his sexy, sprightly wife, Jack Warden as a suspicious President and Richard Dysart as the sick man's quiet watchful doctor - conspire to accept Chance as a plausible figure, and thereby keep the story in motion. There is superb ensemble playing in Being There, particularly in scenes that bring Mr. Sellers and Mr. Douglas together. The timing is often so perfect that the film, at its very wittiest, strips conversation down to its barest maneuvers and stratagems.

It is well worth the visit to the local Blockbuster to seek this timeless classic or to Netflix. In any event as they say "Sit back and enjoy the show" Oh and be considerate of others and be sure to turn your cell phones off.