Withnail And I

Director: Bruce Robinson

1987

Withnail and I is more or less a one-off, its representation of a story (“I” eventually sees the error of Withnail’s eternally irresponsible ways and moves on toward a grown-up career) taking second place to the very funny verbal and visual gags, the oh-so-slightly grotesque exaggeration that underpins the comic remembrance of things past, and reveling in (revulsion for?) the colorful characters.” (746, Geoff Andrew, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die) It is very much a British film, especially in terms of the humour. It’s clever humour that relies more on sarcasm and verbal with than the sometimes crass visual humor so often favoured by Americans (No disrespect to any readers from across the pond, I enjoy a good old-fashioned crass visual gag filled film like The Hangover [2009, Todd Phillips] or Bridesmaids [2011, Paul Feig], just like anyone else)

They have such a fantastically bizarre relationship, Withnail and I, feeding off one another in their paranoia. “Richard Grant is appropriately and hilariously acerbic and theatrical as Withnail, the upper-middle-class reprobate slumming it while (vainly and not very often) trying to find work as an actor.” (746) He is wonderfully eccentric as Withnail and I hold it as one of his best performances ever. Withnail is a character of extremes with impressive highs, eliciting a crazy glint in his eyes, and momentous lows. Prone to melodrama, especially when sobering up. McGann is the more practical one of the pair, the one who spends slightly more time living in reality rather than in their own little bubble. Richard Griffiths does a brilliant job as Uncle Monty – the fact that e has vegetables decorating his living room rather than the more conventional flowers, and wears a radish in his jacket, highlights the sort of character he is. And his car is absolutely gorgeous!

The kitchen is just so gross and yet at the same time their failed attempt to investigate the washing up situation is hysterical. As suggested by the title we see the film predominantly from the viewpoint of Paul McGann’s character, the eponymous I, with him narrating the film. Both Grant and McGann are almost painfully thin and haggard with red rimmed eyes – the result of their reliance on mood altering substances. The costumes reflect the film the film is set, the culmination of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s.

Their antics become even more hilarious when they swap the relative safety of Camden for the middle of nowhere in the country where we see “[…] the impoverished, booze-and-drug obsessed pair find themselves bemused, bewildered, and even besieged by country ways and avuncular lusts.” (746) They can barely survive in the city with home comforts like running water and central heating and yet they’re foolish enough to go on holiday to a country cottage with a wood burning stove. They are marvelously charismatic and you cannot help but marvel at their ridiculous antics.

The film meanders a bit from one incident to another and yet every moment is joyful to behold, despite the numerous cringe worthy situations their behaviour elicits. I felt more and more for McGann as he becomes increasingly caught up in Withanil’s and Monty’s mad cap ways – especially Monty’s very much unwanted advances. It is a bitter-sweet parting with the dissolution of Withnail’s and I’s friendship. I love Withnail’s final bitter rendition of “What A Piece of Work is Man” but then that’s probably because I adore the 2009 Broadway revival of HAIR!!

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