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Harold and Maude (1971)

August 25, 2009

9/10 Serious Oedipus Complexes

I’ve heard a lot of people chalk this movie up as one of the all-time great romantic comedies for what seems like ages now, and after finally getting around to watching it, I’m proud to be on the bandwagon.

Harold and Maude is about a reclusive teenager who’s obsessed with death, stages fake suicides in front of his mother and the various women she tries to set him up with, and goes to strangers’ funerals for fun. Then one day while attending one of the said funerals, he meets this elderly woman who pretty much serves as his polar opposite in life. The two become quick friends, the boy gradually breaks out of his morbid shell, and over the course of a week they fall head over heels for each other.

Yeah, the whole age difference this is pretty strange, but the great thing about this movie is that, after a while, you really don’t care. This isn’t a story about how opposites attract, it’s about how love is blind and why life is worth living. Doesn’t matter how old or young you are, we can all relate.

Deep stuff indeed.

It’s directed by Hal Ashby, and even though I only recently discovered Ashby after seeing another great movie of his called Being There, the guy is quickly making his way up the list as one of my personal favorite directors. It always helps to have a great script to work off of, but what can I say other than that he put together an absolutely great and incredibly genuine movie from a story that could have very well turned out as beyond strange and as grim as my synopsis probably sounds. Certainly takes a special kind of talent to make an audience laugh at suicides.

Now, I don’t recall ever seeing Bud Cort or Ruth Gordon play anyone other than Harold and Maude, but even so, they’re both absolutely wonderful. I don’t know, I guess it’s just wonderful when the actors really make you care about the people they’re playing. It doesn’t take long to realize that Harold and Maude are for the most part pretty bizarre individuals, but they’re endearing, and you can’t help but root for them and watch them grow together. In the end, the movie really all about character development, and when it’s done right, those really are some of the best movies around.

And in case the incredible, directing, acting, and writing weren’t enough, the movie’s soundtrack is set entirely to Cat Stevens. I’d consider that a grand slam if there ever was one.

Look, I absolutely loved this movie. This review really isn’t doing it justice because it evokes a lot of emotions that are difficult to put into words. It’s a movie that just sticks with you in a way that so many romantic comedies don’t, and anyone who loves movies, or just loves life, owes it to themselves to see this fantastic piece of storytelling. It’s pretty amazing how well Harold and Maude holds up nearly forty years after it was released, but isn’t that the case with most things universal?

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