With an impressive array of films that came to a much too soon conclusion, Peter Sellers was by far one of the most prolific and hilarious comedians of all time. At the end of his life, Sellers delivered one of his most memorable and enduring performances with Hal Ashby’s Being There, a film that builds itself as carefully and meticulously as its lead character Chancey speaks.
Set in New York, the film chronicles the shift in the life of a very simple-minded gardener, who has only really experienced the world through television. Much of what Chancey says and does is affected directly by what he has seen on television or his daily routine tending the “Old Man’s” garden. After the Old Man dies, Chancey is forced out into the real world, encountering street punks and other colorful early 1980’s New York characters, carefully digesting everything they say to him (all to a remixed tune of Also Sprach Zarathustra from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Later Chancey is in the right place at the right time, and is injured when a limo backs up into him. Its here that he meets Eve Rand, played by Shirley MacLaine, who insists on having her ailing husbands doctors care for him. There Chancey meets the dying Ben Rand, as played by Melvyn Douglas, who finds Chancey refreshing, mistaking his stark simplicity for balanced, brilliant ingenuity.
To say the least, it is Sellers quite, hilarious, and ultimately heart-breaking performance that carries the film quietly to its haunting conclusion, leaving the viewer perplexed and moved simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the “deluxe edition” DVD isn’t very deluxe, as all it sports is a 15 minute interview with Melvyn Douglas’s grand daughter Ileana Douglas and a trailer. However, the bluray contains an alternate ending, two deleted scenes, and a gag reel as well, a fact that will aggravate fans to no end. However, for the casual viewer, the features should be sufficient.