Although nobody knew it during production, Peter Sellers performance in 1979’s Being There would be his penultimate one, a reminder to audiences of the seemingly effortless acting he was capable of away from the crowd pleasing antics of the Pink Panther series.
Sellers is Chance, a simple gardener for a newly deceased Washington DC employer who has failed to plan for the event. With the house and garden taken over by lawyers, Chance’s time in the job comes to an abrupt end and he’s left to make his way into the real world that previously he’s only observed on television.
Chance is taken under the wing of Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) and her ageing husband Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), a dying billionaire who has the ear of the US President (Jack Warden). With Chance’s gardening homilies mistaken for informed views of the country’s political situation, the once simple man becomes a key player in American policies and the centre of attention for both the FBI and Mrs Rand.
Although Sellers had already starred in one commentary on world politics, Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr Strangelove, this second foray is an altogether calmer affair. The first third of the film takes its time to set the scene, Sellers offering a sympathetic portrayal of a man who has been kept almost a prisoner by his employer.
Chance’s excursion onto the mean streets of DC, clutching only his TV remote control, is well played by Sellers, his tailored suit and coat at odds with the ripped jeans and Afros sported by the teenagers who hassle him in the street.
Offering an interesting view on politics, the media and death, the film works well in its treatment of Chance and his simple view of the world. That everyone misses the fact that Chance is mentally challenged is both funny and alarming and it’s to Sellers’ credit that he never makes the character come across as stupid.
With MacLaine making an effective love interest and Jack Warden superb as a continuously confused President, Being There combines humour and pathos to produce something a little bit deeper than other Peter Sellers films. Considering how close Sellers was to his own demise, the numerous discussions of life and death are made even more poignant.
Blu-ray Special Features
The most interesting special feature on this disc is the 15 minute featurette, Memories from Being There with Melvyn Douglas’ grand daughter, actress Illeana Douglas. Douglas has some interesting insights into what was happening behind the scenes on the film, it’s just a shame the featurette couldn’t have been expanded to a longer documentary. There’s also a theatrical trailer.
Additional Special Features Exclusive to Blu-ray
- Additional scenes (4:00)
- Alternate ending (2:30)
- Gag take (3:00)