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The second submission in the June review writing contest: by “SG Eric”.
DIRECTOR: Hal Ashby
FEATURING: Bud Cort, Ruth Gordon
PLOT: Twenty-something rich kid unfulfilled with his life stages fake suicides to peeve his uppity mother and ultimately finds meaning in life when he meets carefree 89-year-old Maude.
WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST: The May-December romance theme is taken to the extreme by romantically entangling (yes, I mean sexually) a very young man with a very old lady. Considered taboo by most people, the film makes a plea that the perversion is justified because these two odd souls truly do make a bona fide connection with each other, regardless of age or what society deems as acceptable.
COMMENTS: First off, I’ll admit that I’m biased when it comes to this film. It has been my all-time favorite for about as long as I can remember. Excepting The Dark Crystal (which just frightened me) it was the first truly “weird” film I encountered as a child. Like any other kid of my generation, I was enamored by the spectacle that was Star Wars. Fantasy consumes a child’s existence, and there was no greater escape than those first three films. I’m guessing around ’84 I first came upon Harold and Maude on HBO. I was engrossed immediately. Here was a movie that did not rely on fantasy to hold your attention. Sure, there is some reality-based whimsy involved. The humor is dark for sure, some may say morbid, but to a 10-year-old kid watching someone feigning multiple suicides comes off as hilarious. At least it did for me at the time, and yes it still does.
I know this movie has a huge and dedicated cult following. Without trying to sound completely snobbish, I hope it stays within that circle. It deserves to be seen by those who like their cinema offbeat. I find this movie to be so perfect that I cannot fathom anyone not enjoying it.
Now let’s talk about what makes this movie weird. The May-December theme is basically a couple who is one-half old and one-half young. It has been explored many times over in movies, usually in dreadful Hollywood romantic comedies. Usually, it is the older man falling for the younger girl… yes, tracing a semi-origin to “Lolita,” one of the most popular novels written about the subject, which was made into a couple of “controversial” films. There are exceptions of good films exploring this theme. Ghost World (I agree a bit creepy for a couple) or Lost in Translation are good examples, but they never really surpassed plain ol’ sweetness. What sets Harold and Maude apart, other than the gender-role age discrepancy being reversed, is that they give each other hope and a true purpose for life.
Harold’s mother ceaselessly tries to find a respectable mate through dating services. Harold wants no part in this shallowness, and bizarre fake suicides are performed to ward each one off. Upon meeting Maude at funeral services, for which neither one knows the deceased, they hit it off. Maude takes part in several shenanigans that involuntarily involve Harold. He starts to see this chaos/anarchy as a means for living and loving. He tells his mother early on that he has found a companion in Maude and provides evidence with a picture of her. I believe initially the affair was meant to once again irk his mother, but eventually unfolds to true and devout love. Of course his mother is aghast and she stops at nothing to prevent the relationship. Again, the results are nothing short of hilarious.
I have always been fascinated by two people who are linked together and it seems to be a complete mismatch. The beauty of Harold and Maude is that they are not mismatched at all. Only the age factor makes it seem that way. I compare it to seeing a strange couple walking down the aisle of a store. One is obese and the other is pencil-thin. It makes you raise and eyebrow and think, “that’s weird.” Is it? If they are happy I salute them. Love truly knows no boundaries and it makes this life what it is. Films like Harold and Maude can show you that love exists, in spades. It may also tell you to take that spade and dig up that city tree and transplant it in the forest where it belongs.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a doggedly eccentric film which some will reject out of hand. Others will find it profoundly moving and life affirming.”–TV Guide