Harold and Maude Reviews
In my opinion i'm on neither's side, i dont reject the movie nor do i hate it, but neither do i adore it like many people do. I think it's an original, special, quirky movie with good performances and interesting screenwriting, but that's all it is.
Like the crititics consensus states: Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart.
Which is something i fully concur with.
I dont love Harold and Maude, nor do i hate it. I think it's fine entertainment, and it will go down in history that this is one of the most original movies in the ''unconventional friendships'' sub-genre.
Harold and Maude serves as Hal Ashby's contribution to the massive change cinematic history took in 1971. In a year where depictions of violence and sexuality were changed at the hands of such classics as The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange and Last Tango in Paris, Harold and Maude is an example far more tame in some areas and yet shocking in others. It is not difficult to determine where the innovations in Harold and Maude come from. Considering that the intro depicts its titular character Harold Chasen putting his neck in a noose and simulating suicide while his mother doesn't even flinch, the approach to death taken by Hal Ashby is one which is still very strange in the modern day. This is the first sign of Harold and Maude's most distinctive comedic style which proves to come from all kinds of unexpected directions over the course of the tale.
The story depicts a young man obsessed with death finding value in his existence through a developing relationship with a woman many decades older. Rather than having an old character learn from someone young, the roles are reversed for the sake of Harold and Maude which is a perfect use of the context in which it war produced. Coming from the counterculture era, Harold and Maude captures a time when contemporary society was condemned to an era of mistrust and nihilism which was heavily reflected in youth culture. To create a more positive sense of energy, the story looks back to a time when people fought through two world wars and still managed to come out with an optimistic look on life. The beautiful sense of life in the film and touching characters ensure that this feeling has been maintained in the decades since, ensuring that Harold and Maude has won the battle of age even if its humour is not precisely as shocking anymore.
For such an unconventional film, Harold and Maude is a very easy one to watch. Walking a sensible balance between dark comedy and sentimentality, Harold and Maude is a film about characters and not so much about story. Without attempting to be the most in-depth material, Harold and Maude is a film which lets everything naturally develop on its own so that the two titular characters are the primary focus of every source of the film's meanings, messages and humour. The story around Harold and Maude can be dull when it gets sidetracked away from the relationship between its titular characters, but it maintains enough focus to keep things entertaining and never overstays its welcome due to a meagre 91 minute running time.
As a romantic comedy, Harold and Maude is very removed from the conventions of the genre while diverting some of its familiar points into a more refreshing product. Since the plot focuses on the developing romantic relationship between a young man in his 20's and a 79 year old woman, it is the furthest thing from a familiar relationship depicted on film. Yet this concept is not wasted on strictly gags or taken too seriously. Unlike countless other romantic comedies, Harold and Maude is not a tale of cheesy interactions and dramatic conflicts between its main two characters, rather making an effort to be an existential drama amid such a zany plot. Hal Ashby walks a tricky line with this ambition and does not always hit his mark in achieving the most entertaining film, but the themes and subtext of Harold and Maude are always engaging while the unpredictable jokes of the film were a welcome surprise. Though Harold and Maude was a rather brief film, it did pose a lot of questions about love, life and death which left me thinking by the end of it after having some laughs along the way.
One of the most beautiful things about Harold and Maude is its soundtrack. In a similar style to Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967), Harold and Maude has a soundtrack full of gentle acoustic pieces which set a somewhat bittersweet atmosphere consistently. As a fan of the BBC sitcom Extras (2005-2007), I was particularly favourable of Cat Stevens' contribution of the song "Tea for the Tillerman". The work of Cat Stevens on Harold and Maude is beautifully atmospheric and really captures the intended spirit of finding the natural beauty in life.
And to reach out to the human side of viewers, Harold and Maude has a perfect cast.
Ruth Gordon takes on the role of Maude, a sweet old woman with a lot of wisdom to offer. In a brilliant contrast to her Academy Award winning role as the dark and twisted Minnie Castevet in Rosemary's Baby (1968), Dame Marjorie "Maude" Chardin is the most lovable and friendly character you could think of. Yet she is not a shallow archetype of sweetness, she is a genuinely intelligent and very likable character who is so packed with spirit that she transcends her physical age. This means viewers can easily get a sense as to why Harold Parker Chasen falls in love with her. There is a lot the character has to share with the world, and the fact that Ruth Gordon is the one responsible for bonding her with viewers everywhere is a perfect decision. Her free spirit is so admirable because it seems so real, and with Ruth Gordon seizing the role with the same passion Maude uses to sieze life to its fullest every day, the resulting character is brilliant. Ruth Gordon is a perfect lead for Harold and Maude who brings light into the dark nature of the film's beginning and ensures the story develops well enough so that the light shines out to viewers.
Bud Cort is also a brilliant cast member. Leading the film as Harold, Bud Cort is able to brilliantly capture the lost and hopeless nature of youth. It is something viewers can easily sympathize with because it is the kind of darkness many viewers have had to experience in life, as is the surrounding mystery of death. Bud Cort clearly knows the feeling all too well and provides a darkly comic character for the film whom he later develops as the dramatic material progresses. From there, he peels off layers of the character and shows viewers the tender soul underneath with raw and realistic emotion he gets from his interactions with Ruth Gordon. She manages to bring out the best in him and he really works to reach out to her, so the chemistry ends up being a strong two-way streak. Bud Cort embraces the dark comedy and serious drama of the story with no problem balancing the two, making the material seem all the more organic despite strange nature. Everything comes naturally to him which just goes to show the extent of his charms in the face of either comedy or drama, so Bud Cort shines out as a a memorable young star for Harold and Maude.
So Harold and Maude may be brief without having too much happen within its plot, but it is both funny and touching with an insightful script, brilliant performances and an unforgettable soundtrack.