Withnail & I (1987)


I mention a similarity to Fear And Loathing. Interestingly, its poster is also illustrated by Ralph Steadman...
I mention a similarity to
Fear And Loathing. Interestingly, its poster is also illustrated by Ralph Steadman...

Genre: Comedy Drama (UK)

Starring: Richard E. Grant (Bram Stoker's DraculaCorpse Bride), Paul McGann (Alien 3Queen of the Damned)

Directed By: Bruce Robinson (How to Get Ahead in AdvertisingThe Rum Diary)

Overview: Two drug-addled, out-of-work actors living in poverty decide to take a vacation in the country, but find instead the same madness that made them leave London.

We open with a couple of drugged out speed freaks trying to figure out their morning. Withnail, played by the wickedly ballistic Richard E. Grant is a flamboyant and flamboyantly crass Oscar Wilde type, complete with entitled foppish flourishes and wealthy background. His flatmate, the often quiet and subdued Marwood (Paul McGann), is nonetheless a champion of the neurotic, a Steven Wright / Woody Allen lovechild. Together they are broke unemployed actors, living in Camden Town in 1969, surrounded by the squalor of their apartment, bad tripping at the things they find in their disgusting sink. Marwood needs to get out, he needs a break, the poison of the London air is making him mad. Withnail, never without a cigarette screwed into his maw, might have the opportunity to use his wealthy, obese, and very, very homosexual uncle Monty’s (the corpulent Richard Griffiths of Harry Potter fame) cottage in the country. Eventually they are given the keys and travel, the tunes of Jimi Hendrix blaring, to the rustic little town where they find the cottage in question. When they arrive, it’s not quite as they expected. Without food or fuel they hope to rely on the kindness of their neighbours, but find that country folk are even more belligerent than Londoners. They’re quickly torn between making the most of it and turning around and going home.

Yet another amusing neurosis-about-to-snap moment.
Yet another amusing neurosis-about-to-snap moment.

Monty: Do you like vegetables? I've always been fond of root crops but I only started to grow last summer. I happen to think the cauliflower more beautiful than the rose. Do you grow?
Oh, you little traitors. I think the carrot infinitely more fascinating than the geranium. The carrot has mystery. Flowers are essentially tarts. Prostitutes for the bees. There is, you'll agree, a certain 'je ne sais quoi' oh so very special about a firm, young carrot.

A little less destitute and a little more healthy than Ratso and Joe Buck, Withnail and Marwood, are the British comedic equivalent of Midnight Cowboy’s main characters. Wilthnail & I isn’t quite laugh out loud comedy, being more a typical British-dry with explosive moments of madness. Though the script is consistent and well-written, enjoyable as it is, Wilthnail & I is a rote comedy. Monty’s sexual advances on Marwood and Withnail’s glorious alcoholism and cowardice is amusing, but I was overall more impressed with their inaudible drug dealer Danny, who I pleasantly needed to turn on the English subtitles to understand.

Marwood: I've been called a ponce.
Withnail: What fucker said that?
[the big scary Irishman gets up and walks up to them. Withnail freezes in terror with a mouthful of pie]
Irishman: I called him a ponce. And now I'm calling you one, PONCE!
Withnail: [smiling] Would you like a drink?
Irishman: [ripping Withnail's tartan scarf off his neck] What's your name, MacFuck?
Withnail: I have a heart condition. I have a heart condition, if you hit me it's murder.
Irishman: I'll murder the pair of yers!
Withnail: [close to tears] My wife is having a baby! Listen, I don't know what my fr... acquaintance did to upset you but it's nothing to do with me. I suggest you both go outside and discuss it sensibly, in the street.

 All told, when elevated to being something I needed to see before I died, Wilthnail & I was nothing more than an average viewing that made me wonder why it needed mention in the 1001 book – its best reason being “funny verbal and visual gags… colourful characters”. For me, it conjured up better films - a lighter version of the pleasant comedic substance-abuse feel of Fear And Loathing in Las Vegas married with the poverty and insane brains of Mike Leigh’s Naked.

Who needs Wellies when there's pub to be had?
Who needs Wellies when there's pub to be had?

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 7 Script: 8 Plot: 7 Mood: 7

Overall Rating: 74% (Or Without, Either Way)

Having been recently asked, "how many of the ones in that book are actually good" I had to pause before answering the question properly. Being a history over a go-to for 'fun films', I concurred that most of them are great not to mention important. Innocuous as it was, Withnail & I didn’t quite fit either category.

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I liked this one more than you did, in no small measure because of the performances. Richard Grant is a caricature, but one that plays well in the film. He's every entitled stereotype and bit of wasted potential in a single pinpoint. Predictable it may have been, but I found some things to like here.

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