September 30, 2012

There are so many different ways to pitch a romantic comedy. You could, like Woody Allen, place a neurotic in an oversized suit in the company of a pretty socialite and watch as she slowly, but inevitably, falls for his sheepish charm. You could orchestrate something akin to the romance of Romeo and Juliet and pit the two lovers in the midst of a fractious family dynamic, watching with bated breath as they continually separate and reunite. In today’s cinema, the options are numerous and varied. And then there’s Hal Asbury’s 1971 cult classic, Harold and Maude, a delightfully dark, unapologetically weird thrill of a film that prods at the heart of the human condition — love.

Harold Chasen (Bud Cort), 20, typifies post-teenage angst and is plagued by a combination of boredom and neglect. His primary hobbies include staging hilariously outrageous suicides (impaling himself with a hara-kiri knife was particularly gory), and attending funerals, often those of strangers. It is at one these funerals that Harold meets Maude (Ruth Gordon), 79, whose youthful, energetic and life-loving personality serves as the antithesis to Harold’s nihilism. The more time Harold spends with Maude, singing, rescuing trees and terrorising policemen, the more acquainted he becomes with the joy of living for the sake of living. This feel-good aspect of the film has been delineated very tastefully; full of heart and devoid of preachiness.

Visually, the film is quite a treat. Asbury’s use of the San Francisco Bay Area, with winding roads and eerie architecture, fits well with the Gothic nature of the film. The quirky costumes and sumptuous set design display an almost uncompromising attention to detail — fans of Wes Anderson, take note.

Cort, as Harold, delivers a performance that should have got him more than a Golden Globe nomination. He expresses himself with restrained emotionality, paired with occasional bursts of petulance and even insanity, and creates a character that is menacing and gracious at the same time. Gordon, as the effervescent Maude, proves to be the heartbeat of the film, constantly amusing and impressing with her histrionics. A special mention must also be reserved for legendary musician Cat Stevens, who provides the soundtrack for the film. Indeed, his tracks, beginning with the gorgeous ‘Don’t be shy’ and concluding with the heart-wrenching ‘Trouble’ serve as important plot devices.

— Armaan Sayani