Harold and Maude

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Hal Ashby

REVIEWED: 11-24-97

**** So I’m in Midtown Video with my 17-year-old daughter looking for a mutually acceptable movie. I nix Dazed and Confused; she vetoes Fargo. I say, “How about Harold and Maude? It was my favorite movie in college.” She looks dubious. I say, “I was right about Bob Dylan, wasn’t I? Trust me.”

In point of fact, I wasn’t sure how Harold and Maude – with its oddball romance between a suicidal teenager and a 79-year-old free spirit – would play to a new generation. I wasn’t even sure how it would play to me after all these years. I shouldn’t have worried. From its opening scene (wherein Harold, played to moody perfection by Bud Cort, stages a mock hanging), to the final credits, Harold and Maude is still irresistible, a quirky coming-of-age film with surprises at every turn.

Harold is a wealthy, repressed, death-obsessed young man who goes to funerals for fun. His mother thinks he just needs to meet the right girl, and sets him up with a parade of potential dates. Harold prefers staged mock suicides to small talk. The dates flee in terror. Harold drives off in his converted hearse to another funeral.

At one of the funerals he meets Maude, a spunky septagenarian New Ager (indelibly played by veteran character actress Ruth Gordon). After the ceremony, Maude “borrows” a Volkswagen and drives Harold away, sweeping him into her life. Over the course of the next few days, Maude introduces Harold to petty larceny, pot, sex, art, love, and finally–the true nature of death. In the process Harold finally learns how to live.

Harold and Maude isn’t subtle, with its over-the-top, post-1960s sensibilities, but it somehow manages to both embrace and transcend its era. Director Ashby lavishes the film with gorgeous Northern California scenery, and the Cat Stevens songs that play over all the transition scenes are a perfect fit. Bottom line, this is still a smart, funny movie, well worth a rental, either to relive it, or to introduce it to a younger generation. It’s been my experience that they’ll appreciate it. All I hear around the house these days is Cat Stevens.

--Bruce VanWyngarden

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