View Full Version : Withnail & I review

Perfume V
02-25-2003, 07:01 AM
(Originally posted on IMDb.com)

The bottom line is, if you don't like this film, I will start to view you with the utmost suspicion.

It's hard - nay, impossible - to dislike Withnail & I. That said, you can see why it was a flop initially. A low-budget British film, released during an era of scepticism about British films after the Chariots of Fire (1984) team failed to do much else of note, starring then-unknown actors with a rambling 'plot' about two alcoholic actors going into the countryside, then - gasp! - coming back?! Wow! Theatres must have been packed!

Then, slowly, it grew and grew, spreading to other countries as well. But its cult remains strongest in Britain. You can go to any town or village in any part of the country and find at least one person who venerates Withnail & I. You can find them abroad, too - David Fincher included a subtle nod to Withnail and Marwood's relationship (Marwood being the titular "I", named in the script but not in the film) in his masterful Fight Club (1999).

Beyond that homage, Withnail and Fight Club are as different as can possibly be. Whereas Fincher's movie is deliberately hyperbolic and aggressive, Robinson's may be the most understated, softly-spoken comedy ever made. Herein lies its charm - most of its funniest moments fail to reveal themselves until the third, fourth or fifth viewing. (Most of them are also quoted to death by Withnail bores like me, but don't let that put you off. You'll understand what all the fuss is about when you see them in context)

I remember two people writing in to my local cinema, demanding that Withnail & I be screened for their friend's birthday. (Note: Since I wrote this review, I've remembered how they worded their demand: "We want the finest film available to humanity, we want it here, and we want it now..." Says it all, really.) They got what they wanted, too. People who love film understand the spell that Withnail & I casts on you.

The word that describes Withnail & I best is "elegiac". The opening song, a mournful cover of Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", is exquisitely mournful; apparently the artist who recorded it was stabbed to death just after he finished playing. It is set at the end of a decade, and the idiotic Danny has a surprisingly insightful speech towards the end about the demise of 60s culture. Its ending is as melancholic as any ever attempted in comedy. And the fortunes of the cast and crew just adds another layer of bittersweet warmth to the film.

Richard E Grant, Paul McGann, Richard Griffith, Ralph Brown and Michael Elphick (RIP) all went on to variable successes in film and TV. Bruce Robinson - possibly the greatest living Englishman, in my book - faded quietly, as much a victim of his own self-doubt as anything. Gloriously, he still lives the life of Withnail, relaxing in his country home between bouts of writing and increasingly rare acting (he was in Zeffirelli's magisterial Romeo and Juliet, not to mention Truffaut's L'histoire d'Adele H with Isabelle Adjani), never without a dangling cigarette and a bottle of wine. He really is the king of elegant Englishness. Long may he reign.

02-25-2003, 02:55 PM
I had trouble with "Withnail". I saw it with a friend and afterwards we looked at each other not knowing what to think.

I said "I think it was good, but I don't know why" I still don't. Please help.

02-26-2003, 09:14 AM
Johann said...

I said "I think it was good, but I don't know why" I still don't. Please help.

THAT'S IT!!! Actor Ralph Brown said the same thing about the film in the documentary "Withnail and Us" on the DVD. Exact same thing.

It IS a very good movie, but it is a very strange kind of humor. It's not really even British humor so much as it's just a ludicrous situation, two actors who are both at a dead end, but one is level-headed, the other's a boozer, "Jack of all and master of none."

It's a very personal movie for director Bruce Robinson since he grew up very much in the same way during that time in the late sixties, and Withnail is based on a friend of his who was practically the same person as Withnail.

Ultimately, the reason I think it's funny...IT JUST IS! Some movies just hit a nerve that is confusing but laughable. The uncle with all of his gay insinuations, Withnail with all of his thespian posturing and movie-star attitude combined with a raging alcohol problem, and the slightly paranoid and nervous Marwood (I) trying to deal with all of it. And then of course the druggie hairdresser Danny, whose voice ALONE is funny enough to listen to (I also find it interestingly funny that Ralph Brown pretty much played the same character...different name sure, but same voice and same twisted sense of abnormality...in "Wayne's World 2" as Jim Morrison's old roadie).

It's funny because it is...don't question it...just sit back, put away reason, and let the laughter come naturally...trust me it will. After two times, I couldn't stop. At first I was like..."what?" But then...it kicked in. It will for you too...give it time.

02-26-2003, 02:42 PM
I love British comedy. I often find it surreal. We get "Coronation Street" here on the CBC and I watch it every sunday. A riot. "Keeping up Appearances" is also pure gold. "Hyacinth" is my fave character. Loony situations.

As for Withnail and I, the comedy must have went right over our heads- at mach 1. I think I laughed once? It felt like I was an exchange student for a low-ranking university and ended up with roomates I had NOTHING in common with. Being left out of jokes damages you're ego.

I don't blame anyone.

I will take your advice and see the film again.

02-26-2003, 03:31 PM
Yeah, and don't feel bad if you still don't get it. The comedy does move pretty fast, but each scene has its own little situation. That first scene with Marwood and Withnail...

Withnail: "You got soup? Why didn't I get any soup?"
Marwood: "It's coffee."
Withnail: "Why don't you use a cup like any other human being?"
Marwood: "Why don't you wash up like any other human being?"
Withnail: "How DARE you?! How dare you call ME inhumane?!"
Marwood: "I didn't, you merely imagined it, now calm down."
Withnail: "RIGHT, you fucker! I'M going to do the washing up!"

It's mostly in the dialogue, just that exchange of two people living together bickering like an old married couple...I find it hilarious. Some of the scenes are not laugh-out-loud funny so much as it's just ridiculous. "Don't threaten ME with a dead fish!" Or the best line in the movie..."I have to have some booze, it's the only way to fight this intense cold. I DEMAND TO HAVE SOME BOOZE!"

Sorry, hehe...I love the movie, and I admit it's hard to get into, but once I got into it, I never got out. Movies that take time for me to get into them are often the ones I end up loving the most because I have to rediscover them each time I watch, and "Withnail and I" counts as one of those kinds of movies for me. It's genuinely one of my favorite movies.

If it doesn't become one of yours, that's okay too. But do give it another chance...it's a movie that takes awhile if you're not British.

Perfume V
02-27-2003, 06:15 AM
It takes a while when you are British too, I think. I liked it the first time round, but I didn't think it was a masterpiece. Then it started to grow on me, like "matter" in the sink.

"That's what you would say, but that wouldn't wash with Jeff Woad"... "Honestly officer, I've only had a few ales"... "I've seen you two - especially you - prancing around like a tit"... "As a youth, I used to weep in butchers' shops"... "Wake up, you bastard!"... "Matter? What matter?"... "GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN!"... "If I medicined you, you'd think a brain tumour was a birthday present"... "You can stuff it up your arse for nothing and fuck off while you're at it!"... "I mean to have you even if it must be by burglary!"...

Oh dear lord, somebody stop me.

02-27-2003, 08:05 AM
And of course, Bruce Davidson's favorite line in the movie, that important moment in the beginning when Withnail goes, "FOOOOCK IT!!!"

And of course, "MONTY! You terrible cunt!"

Hehe, can't stop ya Perfume V...I need stopping myself.

Perfume V
02-27-2003, 12:55 PM
That Jeff Woad conversation is absolutely godlike. To my knowledge, there's only Withnail & I and Fight Club (another Robinson-Fincher link, I guess) that feature scenes of people sitting around dissecting rubbish newspaper articles in that sort of detail, and yet that same activity makes up 87% of my life. :D

05-23-2003, 12:48 PM
AHA!!! Good point, I never noticed that before. Both "Withnail and I" and "Fight Club" have scenes of the two main characters dissecting newspaper articles, and now I've also realized that both have a scene where they talk and one is naked in the bathtub. Very interesting Perfume V, well-spotted!

06-17-2003, 02:26 AM
I'm so addicted to this flick. So glad to read others comments on probably the most timeless english comedy of all time. I'll be watching it till I die.

"Scrubbers, scrubbers....little tarts they love it"
"Throw ourselves into the road darling, you haven't got a chance"

"I'm preparing myself to forgive you, I think you've been punished enough......think we'd better release you from the legu'me, and transfer your talents to the meat"