Old 04-02-2009, 03:28 PM
Bruce Robinson's Withnail and I

Withnail and I (1987)

"Withnail and I" is an attempt at being a possible dramatic (or maybe even comedic) buddy film. It tries to take two characters who are so down in the dumps and put them through a situation that is suppose to make us care about what they are going through, except their best solution is usually to escape from their present situation, and in the process, they escape from anything that would make their characters develop.

Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and Marwood (Paul McGann) are two down-on-their-luck actors who have trouble finding work, so they decide to take a vacation by spending a few days at Withnail's uncle's country house. Things turn out to be just as bad there as the house is rundown and lacking adequate supplies. When they are threatened by a local poacher, they become concerned that he will break into the house and harm them. One night, they think they hear him breaking in, but it turns out to be Withnail's uncle, Monty (Richard Griffiths). Monty's arrival sparks some very awkward events that Marwood must deal with.

The reason this film fails so exponentially cannot be placed in one single area. Almost everything that could be wrong with a film is wrong here, from the screenplay and the story, to the pacing and the acting. If a screenplay is not going to give its characters anything the least bit interesting to say to each other, then, of course, the audience is going to get bored very quickly. This is exactly what this screenplay delivers. Aside from a few lines from Shakespeare's "Hamlet," the screenplay is a disaster. It doesn't ever allow the story to move forward in any way, shape, or fashion, but instead has the characters going from one pointless, random situation to the next.

We start with the two main characters in their apartment who choose to run away to the country house, which obviously is not going to change anything, and when they get there and find the conditions just as bad as at home, they decide to stay there anyway. The story then tries to be about their survival at this house as they attempt to scrounge up food and fuel for the fire. Then when the uncle shows up, the film tries to incorporate completely random homosexual undertones for some strange reason, which shifts all the attention from both main characters to just one of them.

I already mentioned how there was no character development, which makes us unable to form any kind of emotional attachment to any of the characters. By the time the end comes around, it's really hard to care who goes where. One of these characters, a drug dealer, only seemed to be around to provide annoying background noise to the two main characters' lives at home. He is one of the main reasons the film feels like it just fizzles out at the end without having any emotional impact. One thing that would have helped the film a lot while doing another draft of the screenplay would have been to toss this character entirely.

Since the story randomly jumped from one thing to the next, the pacing felt completely thrown off. It tries to get you interested in one event that Withnail and Marwood are going through, but then suddenly shifts to the next event, leaving little time to get engaged. When it took time out in an attempt to introduce plot elements, again they felt very random due to a lack of character/story development, making the pacing extremely slow.

The actors do what they can with the roles, but with nothing interesting to say or do, what can they really do with them? Nonetheless, Richard Grant and Paul McGann make a valiant effort to bring to life these two washed-up actors who feel the need to get away from it all. They tend to play every scene way too over the top, making them seem either incredibly stressed, insane, or perhaps both (well, Withnail does drink lighter fluid at one point while demanding booze). It's always a delight to see Richard Griffiths. He is well known from playing Dr. Meinheimer in "The Naked Gun" films, and does a decent job of playing the uncle here.

The direction feels rather lazy, as in it felt like Robinson just pointed and shot, showing us what he thought was important. Since he is the same person who wrote the screenplay, it comes as no surprise that the direction proves the inadequacies of the script. The whole film just doesn't want to focus on anything, or make an effort at telling an important story. It meanders from scene to scene not caring whether its characters develop or not while having them spout some very bland dialogue.

If it had focused on something, there might have been potential for a decent story here, but in the end, only a couple lines of dialogue came to mind. At one point, Withnail says to Marwood, "A mistake I tell you. This is a dreadful mistake." Yes. Yes it is. 1.5/4 stars.
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