I have 461 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Withnail and I (1987)
What’s it rated? Rated R for extraordinary filthiness, drug and alcohol fueled depravity and bald faced debauchery.
Did people make it? Written and Directed by Bruce Robinson. Acted by Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffiths, Ralph Brown and Michael Elphick.
What’s it like in one sentence? Fear and Loathing in Camden Town.
Why did you watch it? Because I haven’t seen it in 10 years and I wanted to laugh.
What’s it about in one paragraph? It’s 1969 in London and Withnail (pronounced Withnull) and his flatmate Marwood (who is never actually called by this. Long story) are unemployed and starving actors living in the shit nastiest flat imaginable. The only thing they have to look forward to are the pubs opening so they have somewhere warm to hang out. After too many months of this they decide they need a nice rejuvenating trip to the countryside. After all, a nice trip to the country is all one needs to make life a little more worth living, right? Hi-jinks etc.
Play or remove from my queue? If you have never seen this film then this is probably the greatest movie you’ve never seen. This is easily in my top ten favorite films of all time list and, truthfully, it’s probably in my top 5 since Edward Scissorhands doesn’t hold the same sway for me as it used to. It is my second favorite comedy of all time (after Safe Men) and the most quotable film I’ve ever seen. It’s got wit, heart, soul, fully realized characters, more than a touch of darkness and performances that remain just as iconic today as they were 25 years ago.
Richard E. Grant (who was already iconic to me after How to Get Ahead in Advertising) as Withnail is a revelation in this film. He’s had a pretty decent career since (L.A. Story probably being his biggest hit), but nothing that I’ve seen has come close to showing the dramatic range and comic timing on display in this. Literally, every single line from his mouth in this film is either hilarious or heartbreaking, sometimes simultaneously and in equal measure. It’s Grant who raises this movie from cult classic status to just plain classic status and if he never makes another film again it will still be an extraordinary career. You will name a pet or baby Withnail after seeing his performance in this.
I don’t mean to heap all the love on Grant because Paul McGann as Marwood (or “I” if you prefer) is phenomenal, as well. He’s the neurotic id to Withnail’s flamboyant super-ego and McGann’s narration is what gives this film most of it’s weight when it could have threatened to just float away. I always wondered why McGann never did more after this. He carries his scenes with a charming paranoia that few actors can pull off. It looks like he was in Alien 3 and played The Doctor in a Doctor Who TV movie and is a regular on that Luther show starring Stringer Bell so I guess he’s doing just fine. I guess you can ignore this whole paragraph.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful performances by Richard Griffiths and Ralph Brown, as well. Griffiths you’ll recognize as Vernon Dursley (or as Swelter in Gormenghast if you’re a British TV nerd like me) and he absolutely kills it as Withnail’s aggressively homosexual Uncle Monty. Withnail tells Monty that Marwood is gay in hopes to seduce him into letting them use his country home for a vacation from the city. His plan works except that, as the film progresses and Monty has no luck with the unfortunately heterosexual Marwood, things get a little rapey and Griffiths gets funnier and funnier. All the antics are overlaid with a powerful sense of loneliness and isolation that makes what could have been a one note stereotype of a performance into one for the ages. And Ralph Brown (who played the asshole guard in Mean Machine) plays the drug dealing layabout Danny with such in the moment honesty and creativity that his hybrid of Ozzy, Richard Simmons and Russell Brand actually comes across as fresh and interesting instead of making me hate fuck my own face off. I understand that he didn’t copy Russell Brand, but Brand has made me retroactively hate a few things, so I was happy to note this character wasn’t one of those things. Leather pants can fuck themselves, though.
Anyway, it’s the best. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie right now. Even if you’ve seen it, I bet it’s been awhile. Or if you watched it yesterday, then watch it again so you can memorize it better and figure out what your favorite quote from the movie is. Mine is (while starving and contemplating a live chicken) “I think you should strangle it quickly before it starts trying to make friends with us.” Or is it “We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!” Fuck, I don’t know. You watch it and decide for yourself.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? Daniel Day-Lewis turned down the part of Withnail. I can not even imagine what that movie would have been, but it wouldn’t be anything like what exists today. I assume milkshakes would have been drunk.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Slacker (another classic but not remotely as funny), How To Get Ahead In Advertising (Yes!! Amazing film. Talking boils FTW!), Metropolitan (Whit Stillman’s classic. Not similar to Withnail but worth watching all the same), Melvin Goes to Dinner (Bod Odenkirk directed this and that excites me. Never seen it but sounds cool), The Field (“A Jim Sheridan picture” is all I needed to add this to my queue.)
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? If you like this then we are friends. Forever. I’ll mail you a friendship bracelet.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.5
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 5.0
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? Just that I love this movie with all my heart and soul and it makes me want to make love to cinema gently, but with increasing intensity and verve.
Did you watch anything else this week? The brilliant first 5 episodes of Season 3 of Breaking Bad. Tomorrow A Dance With Dragons comes out, so that’s what I’ll be doing for a while.
Next Week? Your pick, fellers.