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Amusing and pleasant, BEING THERE is at its core a political satire. The temperate film may be of a bygone era, but the message still resonates today.
Chance (Peter Sellers) is a simple man in more was than one. Uneducated and isolated from the world, he has worked as a gardener his entire life for a millionaire and has only learned about the world through what he has seen on television.
When his benefactor dies, Chance is booted out with no skills on how to survive. In a quirk of fate, he gets hit by a car owned by political socialite Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) and he’s mistaken for a member of the wealthy set, due to his fine clothes and soft spoken manner.
Invited to convalesce at their mansion, Chance quickly develops a friendship with the dying Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and soon becomes part of his inner circle, which includes not only the Russian Ambassador but also the President of the United States (Jack Warden).
Completely unaware that Chance is a simpleton, he’s accepted with opens arms by the social elite as well as the public when he accidently becomes a political figure.
Directed by Hal Ashby (COMING HOME, SHAMPOO), BEING THERE is a quiet film and the satire is more of a gentle nudge than a slap on the face. It’s a very gentle film with an enormously gentle heart, especially for it’s main character. Sellers received many award nominations and Douglas won his second Best Supporting Oscar for his role.
The film does strain credibility at times with everyone’s inability to notice a complete moron in their midst, but given the slightly heightened tone of the film it’s tolerable as BEING THERE has shades of farce weaved within the satire.
In many ways it reminded me of RAIN MAN (1988) and FORREST GUMP (1994) or even Woody Allen’s ZELIG (1983). Even though it’s “supposed” to be a comedy, it plays better if you come at it as a dramedy, otherwise you may be disappointed by the lack of laugh out loud moments (which there are very few).
Though not what I expected from a Peter Sellers film, ultimately I was entranced by the movie. It’s quaint and inoffensive and sometimes you need to slow down and smell the roses.