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Being There
4 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Hal Ashby

Written By:
Jerzy Kosinski

Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart, Richard Basehart

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Being There (1980)
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Movie Review by Lone Wolf
February 20th, 2007

Being There

Chance (Peter Sellers) is an innocent feeble-minded simpleton who grows up in the home of a wealthy recluse in Washington, D.C. He tends the garden and watches TV. Except for his limited relationship with Louise the maid (Ruth Attaway), his only social and cultural education has been television. When his benefactor dies, middle-aged Chance must vacate his home and discover the world outside for the first time.

A minor car accident allows him to meet industrialist Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). They misinterpret his name as "Chauncey Gardiner", rather than "Chance the gardener". The Rands believe Chauncey is a bankrupt businessman and they interpret his bewildered silence as brilliant wisdom.

Ben Rand is a dying man and an advisor to the US President (Jack Warden). Chauncey meets the President and his remarks about seasonal changes in the garden are misinterpretted as profound economic and political advice. The President is very impressed, and Chauncey rises to great political heights as a mysterious sage, homespun philosopher, and national celebrity.

When Rand dies, members of the board of his companies decide that Chauncey Gardiner is obviously the best candidate to become the next President of the United States. As usual, Chauncey is oblivious to everything, and wanders around Rand's estate and goes across a small lake, walking on the surface almost like Jesus.

BEING THERE is a classic satiric comedy, a provocative seriocomic parable on the media's role in modern society. This droll low-key fable is full of black humour and viciously witty comments on American life. It is Peter Sellers last screen performance, remarkably inspired, and he abandons his usual slapstic style and plays it straight-faced.

Adapted by Jerzy Kosinki from his 1971 novel, the movie is cynical, subtle, yet profound, and far-fetched at times. It is somewhat similar to FORREST GUMP (1994). Peter Sellers died the year it was released, and it is definitely one of his best films. He was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor, and Melvyn Douglas won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Shirley MacLaine is excellent. But BEING THERE is too long at 130 minutes, and sometimes it's almost a one-joke movie that overworks its wisdom-of-the-innocent theme.

Others in the cast include: Richard A. Dysart (Dr. Robert Allenby), Richard Basehart (Vladimir Skrapinov), David Clennon (Thomas Franklin), Fran Brill (Sally Hayes), Denise DuBarry (Johanna), Oteil Burbridge (Lolo), Ravenell Keller III (Abraz), Donald Jacob (David), Ernest McClure (Jeffrey), Kenneth Patterson (Perkins), Richard Venture (Wilson), Arthur Grundy (Arthur), W.C. Burton (Lewis), Henry B. Dawkins (Billings), Georgine Hall (Mrs. Aubrey), Nell P. Leaman (Constance), Villa Mae Barkley (Teresa), Alice Hirson (First Lady), James Noble (Kaufman), Gerald C. McNabb, Jr. (Woltz), Hoyt Clark Harris, Jr. (Riff), Ned Wilson (Honeycutt), Stanley Grover (Baldwin), John Harkins (Sidney Courtney), Katherine De Hetre (Kinney), William Larsen (Lyman Stuart), Jerome Hllman (Gary Burns), Arthur Rosenberg (Morton Hull), Sam Weisman (Colson), Gwen Humble (Annie Lawson), Meledy Britt (Sophie), Hanna Herteledy (Natasha Skrapinov), Elya Baskin (Karpatov), Than Wyenn (Ambassador Gaufridi), Richard McKenzie (Ron Steigler), Sandy Ward (Senator Slipshod), Danna Hansen (Mrs. Slipshod), Mitch Kreindel (Dennis Watson), and many others. Jerzy Kosinski wrote the screenplay from his novel with Robert C. Jones. Johnny Mandel composed the music. Hal Ashby directed.

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