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Withnail & I

Posted by martinteller on January 21, 2012

I tried watching this 9-10 years ago and only got about 15 minutes into it before I couldn’t stand it any longer.  It felt like an obnoxious attempt to channel Hunter S. Thompson, plus I have a hard time tolerating Richard Grant in large doses.  But now that it’s entered the TSPDT list (and quite high up the list, too) I felt obligated to give it another go.  And I let go of my apprehension and attempted to enjoy it.

Two guys (in this case aspiring actors), made paranoid by constant use of various intoxicants, flee the city in a drug-and-alcohol fueled road trip to the countryside.  Run-ins with “straight folk”, the death of 60’s idealism, “the fear”, even the Ralph Steadman marketing material points to a strong Thompson influence.  For a time their escapades are mildly enjoyable, and although much of the humor didn’t work for me at all, I did laugh at a few lines.  But it all went sharply downhill in the third act, most of which revolves around an extended bout of homophobia regarding the Richard Griffiths (“Uncle Dursley” from the Harry Potter films) character.  Even for a film that wallows in seediness, this was entirely too distasteful for me.  It pretty much ruined the title characters for me, who I was just starting to grow fond of.  I doubt that Bruce Robinson is actually a homophobe, but whether he is or isn’t, it doesn’t justify the attempt to mine it so much for comedy.

Even ignoring this part, it’s not an especially witty or insightful movie, save for a few scattered moments.  I get why it has a cult following, but I won’t be joining the cult.  Rating: Poor


6 Responses to “Withnail & I”

  1. Well, Martin
    Glad not to have you on board, you old misanthrope !
    After all those years, we are still relishing every moment, so
    please be a good boy and leave us to revel in our mire of filth !

  2. Thanks for reading!

  3. Steve Kimes said

    Why do you think that so many people enjoy this film? I’m right on the verge of watching this… and your review is the first to give me pause.

    • It seems to me the kind of thing I might have appreciated more in college. It’s got a sardonic bitterness to it, sort of a shabby but high-minded world-weariness. Again, the Hunter S. Thompson comparison comes to mind.

      It really ALMOST made a “fair” rating for me because there are some funny bits and good character moments. But the whole Monty situation really rubbed me the wrong way and soured me on it.

      • sardoniccynic said

        I know this response comes over 3 years following the last, but I just had to respond to the inference of homophobia in the film. You seem like a reviewer I’d agree with on most films based on others I’ve come across. But to me, Uncle Monty’s character here was portrayed as tragic; he was lonely, desperate and in need of the spice of life he remembered in youth, and due to his loneliness and Withnail’s deception, he thought Paul McGann’s character liked him. When it was revealed he had no feelings, Monty left and had also written a note for them, admitting defeat in his life and understanding his possibilities of finding love had been exhausted. I thought he was portrayed as a largely sympathetic character, and got no true homophobic vibes from Robinson.

        As for the humor, it is distinctly English, which I love but acknowledge may not be for everybody.

        Love the sort of encyclopedia of reviews you’ve created here, by the way.

  4. Thanks for commenting! I do enjoy several brands of English humor (“The Thick of It” is one of my favorite shows) but of course different types of humor don’t work on everyone.

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