Top 100 Films #48 – Withnail and I (1987)

 

withnail022#48. Withnail and I (1987)
Directed by: Bruce Robinson
Written by: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant, Richard Griffiths

Bruce Robinson’s indescribably quirky Withnail and I is quite possibly the pinnacle of 80’s British cinema, and one of the most beloved modern cult movies. The film stars Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann as the titular “Withnail” and “I” (or “Marwood”, but it’s never explicitly said aloud) respectively, both of whom are actors desperately seeking work.  Withnail is an eccentric alcoholic from a privileged background, and Marwood is his neurotic, worrying flatmate. The two men look to get away from their filthy flat and spend time in the Penrith countryside, in a cottage borrowed from Withnail’s Uncle Monty (Richard Griffiths).  Monty is a flamboyant older man with an interest in Marwood and melodrama.  The two men seek refuge in Penrith looking to relax and dry themselves out, but end up doing nothing of the sort.  The events that take place after their arrival to Uncle Monty’s cottage are absolutely hilarious and surreal in the best way possible, making Withnail and I one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had.  The laughs come frequently, but are never obvious or cheap – every joke and gag is subtle and incredibly well-crafted, which is rare for a comedy.  Instead of going with slapstick or relying on quick dialogue, much of Withnail and I’s humor comes from a situational perspective – the things they’re saying may not always be hilarious, but the situations they’re involved in are too bizarre to be taken seriously.  Grant and McGann have genuine on-screen chemistry together, coming off as old pals with faltering patience for one another.  McGann’s portrayal of the neurotic Marwood is the perfect straight man to Grant’s Withnail, who is obnoxious, impulsive, and selfish, but also quite lovable for these traits.  As soon as we get comfortable watching Withnail and Marwood get on each other’s nerves, Richard Griffiths’ excellent Uncle Monty comes back into the picture and Withnail and I goes into overdrive.  The situations become increasingly awkward and exaggerated, with Monty becoming more bold in his vying for Marwood’s affections. Griffiths is larger than life in the role, and absolutely a treat to watch as Uncle Monty – those only familiar with his work in the Harry Potter films need to see this film to believe it.  Withnail and I is endlessly entertaining, intelligent, inventive, and odd – it’s the perfect combination for the perfect cult movie.  If you’re a fan of comedy of any sort, Withnail and I is required viewing.

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