Necromania and Octogenarian Love
Dark and quirky, Hal Ashby’s 1971 feature blends themes of necro-obsession with an unnatural age-gap relationship into an eccentric, offbeat product which estranges half of the viewers enticed into seeing it.If you’re on the right side of it, and warm to the strange romantic stream that flows through its death-driven narrative, then you’ll find much to engage with in this tale of a rich 20-year-old brat with a morbid obsession with death, who finds unlikely companionship in Maude, a close-to-death pensioner 60 years his senior. The mixture of unusual comedy – the kid gets his kicks staging mock-suicides to aggravate his up-herself mother – with darker tones surrounding death leaves this film with a sickly taste that takes a while to warm to (if ever), but the burgeoning romance between the two leads is, funnily enough, remarkably plausible, less because of Ruth Gordon’s allure as Maude (which is, somewhat thankfully, non-existent), but more because Bud Cort’s Harold is such an oddity himself, you almost feel that he’d have never found love in any other place.Frequently looking like a reanimated child-corpse himself, the incessantly smug Harold is unpleasantly creepy in the extreme. Unfortunately, but not wholly unexpectedly, the film is certainly not to everybody’s tastes, and where some might find the flipping from funny to sad; from comic to tragic, a welcome blend that helps keep things refreshing and unpredictable, others may become weary of the flippant, whimsical nature of the piece, and struggle to accept the atypical leads driving the film along. At the end of the day, you see, if you don’t like either of the main characters at the centre of a film, it’s hard to appreciate anything else that the film might have to offer; but with decent cinematography from the Oscar-nominated guy who lensed Scarface and Chinatown, and a suitably quirky soundtrack by Cat Stevens, it’s easy to see how those who do get a handle on the Harold and Maude dynamic must have found plenty to enjoy here.
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