A funeral-crashing youngster (Bud Cort) and a 79-year-old car thief (Ruth Gordon) form an unlikely romance in 1971 cult comedy Harold and Maude, not to be confused with Harold & Kumar Get the Munchies.
Harold and Maude opens with Harold’s suicide; his first of 8 throughout the movie. A kind of macabre version of The Graduate (with Cat Stevens instead of Simon and Garfunkel), this is a strangely touching and refreshingly off-kilter black comedy.
Despite Harold’s obsession with death, the film is really about life; the vivacious Maude teaches the morbid Harold to enjoy living, in a story that’s more existentialist folk tale than romance.
This non-conformist, life-affirming quality is generated by Hal Ashby’s unpredictable direction and the eccentric performances: Cort looks like the kid from The Omen and Gordon was actually in Rosemary’s Baby. Talk about an odd couple.
Vivian Pickles is wonderful as Harold’s disinterested mother (the root of his oddball behaviour) while Charles Tyner entertains as his military uncle, lending the film a Dr. Strangelove-style streak of satire.
Some of the funniest scenes involve Harold mutilating himself to get out of meeting “regular” women, at one point smiling knowingly at the camera in the process.
The subversive comedy works like a charm because we connect with these outsider characters. It also has the courage of its convictions not to care what anyone thinks, and leaves its bloody fingerprints all over modern comedies like Richard Ayoade’s Submarine.
Authentically odd and enduringly charming, there’s plenty of life left in Harold and Maude.