A better 'Hangover'
S. Webb | Atlanta | 02/17/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Unlike so many comedies that are merely a collection stock characters and increasingly outlandish incidents - like the recent buddy flick "The Hangover" - this is a movie with a brilliantly funny script and a compelling story. Like the aforementioned flick, though, this movie does involve significant alcohol consumption and a wild, lost weekend.
I love how the movie starts. The two lads of the title ("I" is not named in the film) are two out-of-work actors in a serious rut. One morning "I" leaves the squalid apartment he shares with Withnail to seek sustenance (he's suffering the effects of booze and pills) at a nearby dive, but he's appalled by the disgusting food, the downtrodden patrons and the lurid tabloid headlines he glimpses from a neighbor's newspaper. He bolts from the place and heads back home, eager to discuss his insights into the miserable human condition with Withnail. But his pal's only concern is the lack of booze in the apartment. Meanwhile, the deteriorating state of this humble abode can no longer be ignored -- rats seem to have taken up residence amid the dirty dishes and rotting food in the kitchen, and basic necessities like heat are lacking. After a futile attempt to clean the kitchen, the two venture outside for some fresh air. Oh, but it is not the most pleasant of seasons in London. The clammy, drizzly weather further deflates their spirits. The local pub provides a brief respite until a thug threatens to beat them up, sending them scurrying out the door.
But there is hope! Withnail's eccentric Uncle Monty loans them the key to his country house. A brief vacation in the country will surely get them out of the doldrums and help them forget that they haven't landed jobs in quite some time. Of course the holiday isn't as peaceful as planned. It's actually a nightmare, and the locals they meet up with are a tad eccentric.
The script of this film (originally released in 1986) by writer-director Bruce Robinson keeps the funny lines coming one after another. Indeed, as other reviewers have noted, this is one of the most quotable movies ever, and I've managed to avoid mentioning a single one of them! You really must see this movie if you're a fan of acerbic British wit.
Richard Grant is the bitter and always overly dramatic Withnail; Paul McGann is the saner counterpart to Withnail and provides the often humorous (but not overused) narration; and who could forget Richard Griffiths' great turn as Uncle Monty. Robinson says in the commentary that the film is badly shot, but I respectfully disagree. Despite the meager budget, Robinson does a fine job capturing the time and place (late 1960s England) and setting the mood for this film in various shots(the grimy apartment, the dreary streets of London, dark pubs, brief glimpses of beauty in the countryside, etc.).
As funny as this movie is, there's an undercurrent of sadness. The two lead characters are struggling to find their way, and it becomes apparent that they're headed in opposite directions. The film ends with Withnail bidding farewell to his friend (who has finally landed a lead role in a play) in a downpour and quoting Hamlet, something you know he'll never be doing on the stage. Robinson says that he considered a far darker ending, which you can find out by watching the commentary of this great movie.