“Being There” (1979) dir. Hal Ashby

What can I say?  I’m in a very Hal Ashby mood tonight.  This is director Hal Ashby’s last great film, a wonderful adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s 1970 novella about a simpleton who is  mistaken for a genius and the next great hope of the American political system.  Peter Sellers in his last terrific performance (a performance for which he should have won the Oscar … seriously, Dustin Hoffman for “Kramer vs. Kramer”?) plays the idiot savant Chance the Gardner, mistaken for Chauncey Gardiner, genius intellectual.  This almost made my Top 10 films of all time, but I think I hesitated, because in a weird way, I identify with Chance.  I don’t think I’m particularly smart, but somehow, I not only got into a top university (without the credentials of a connected family), but got into a fully-funded Master’s program as well, and a Doctoral program.  The payback?  My current job, which is decent, but let’s just say I’m not exactly setting the world on fire.  There’s no such thing as a free lunch and your limitations will catch up with you, no matter what fancy words you drizzle on top of your mediocrity.  Fortunately, you don’t quite get to see this in “Being There,” so it remains, prime intellectual entertainment you don’t have to be smart to enjoy.  This is everything “Forrest Gump” wanted to be, but wasn’t.  And while I actually like “Forrest Gump,” “Being There” smokes it on every level.

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