Harold and Maude Review - The Greatest Rom-Com?
Runtime: 91mins | Director: Hal Ashby | Year: 1971 | Rating: 5 Stars
Recently, I attended another of Uckfield Picture House’s ‘Cinephile Sunday’ events to see one of my favourite films – Harold and Maude, directed by Hal Ashby.
Harold and Maude follows the life of Harold (Bud Cort), a 20-year-old who is obsessed with death and suicide. Despite his mother’s best efforts to secure him a partner and make him ‘normal’, he simply cannot find love. Whilst on one of his regular days out to attend a stranger’s funeral Harold meets Maude (Ruth Gordon) – an eccentric 80-year-old holocaust survivor who now lives her life to the full. This encounter changes Harold’s life instantly as a taboo romance between them blossoms.
Without a doubt, Harold and Maude is one of the quirkier films you will ever watch, but it is also one of the most uplifting and genuinely moving too. Many people will find it off-putting due to the incredibly large age gap between them, but honestly, you don’t end up viewing them as a 20-year-old and an 80-year-old, you simply view them as Harold and Maude.
For me, what makes Harold and Maude such a wonderful and unique film, especially when contrasted with the majority of films today, is that it doesn’t focus on the romantic side of their relationship, but instead, on their friendship which is even more important. Of course, there is a sexual side to the relationship, but as Ashby said in an interview, “that’s sort of what the whole movie is about, a boy falling in love with an old woman; the sexual aspect doesn’t have to be distasteful” and he’s right, it isn’t distasteful at all due to his direction.
Instead, a large chunk of their relationship centres on Maude teaching Harold to enjoy and appreciate life more. Previously, Harold was fascinated with death and regularly committed fake suicides in a desperate attempt to get attention from his wealthy mother who he lives alone with.
In fact, the opening scene of the film is him staging a fake hanging to which his mother walks by, unphased, before telling him off. When he meets Maude, however, she teaches him how to enjoy life and appreciate all the beauty within it – a lesson we can all derive some value from.
My favourite scene in the film and a great example of this is when they’re sat talking about life and Maude asks Harold what sort of flower he would like to be? Maude states that she would be a sunflower as they’re “tall and simple” and Harold says he’d like to be a daisy. When Maude asks why, he says because daisies are “all alike”. Maude disagrees with him and says, “oh, but they’re not! Some are smaller, some are fatter – some grow to the left, some to the right. Some even have lost some petals… all kinds of observable differences. You see, Harold – I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, yet… allow themselves to be treated as that.” As Maude says this, the camera pans out from the spot they’re sat at, covered in daisies, to reveal they’re in a graveyard filled with hundreds of seemingly identical white gravestones symbolising the transition Harold is making from being obsessed with death to slowly appreciating life. It’s a very touching moment and one which has always stood out to me. (To see a clip of this scene, click here. You really ought to watch the whole film though!)
Whilst both the acting and plot itself are of a very high quality, however, so is Ashby’s directing.
Harold and Maude is an exceptionally quirky film and one which could have easily descended into unnecessary madness. Instead, Ashby manages to maintain the charming eccentric nature of the film whilst providing us with one of the greatest love stories of all time. Admittedly, it isn’t the traditional romance we are used to seeing, but this makes it all the better and far more authentic.
Harold and Maude is one of the most enjoyable, funny and charming films I have seen. Some may not enjoy it due to the strange nature of the film, but for those who go in with an open mind, they will reap the rewards.
For me, it is a timeless film that will continue to both shock, charm and delight audiences for generations to come making it one of the greatest and most unique rom-coms ever made. Give it a chance - you won't regret it.
To watch the trailer – click here.
To see the upcoming films for ‘Cinephile Sunday’ at the Uckfield Picture House – click here.