“I think that Harold & Maude is one of the greatest love stories of our time” is just one of the pieces of praise the underground hit received in the Farrelly Brothers’ 1998 smash comedy There’s Something About Mary. Yet its acclaim doesn’t end there; homages to the film have featured in everything from Quadrophenia through to Family Guy and there’s also the inherent influence it has had upon cinema that only appears to be growing stronger and more noticeable in recent years, most notably with the successes of Wes Anderson and Richard Ayoade.
Colin Higgins’ tale of the death-obsessed, introverted teenager Harold meeting the love of his life, 79-year-old Maude at a funeral they both attend despite not even knowing the deceased spawns a new way of life in every aspect of the phrase for the pair. Not exactly your standard set-up for a romantic comedy, but the film is so delightfully offbeat in every sense of the word that even The Addams Family would undoubtedly give a standing ovation at the events which then unfold.
Maude lives a carefree existence, filling her time by living life to its fullest and she teaches Harold that there’s no point in living if you can’t feel alive. The contrast of the two personalities creates a clear attraction, which is accompanied by a perfect soundtrack from Cat Stevens.
Despite being in a new decade, the spirit of the 60’s continues to live on throughout Harold and Maude with big nods towards the breaking of taboos and also of the establishment. Harold’s mother, a wealthy socialite, constantly attempts to find her son a wife by setting him up on dates, all of which are abruptly ended with Harold staging a fake (and always hilarious) suicide. Realising that she is struggling to present her son with a suitable marriage candidate, she then attempts to get him onside with materialistic goods in the form of a brand new Jaguar convertible, which Harold then transforms into his very own hearse.
Ultimately, Hal Ashby’s understated vision and deadpan humour has only grown more vivid throughout the passing decades and when watching Harold and Maude you can tell that it is very much at the root of so many wonderful films which owe a great debt to it. It is bursting at the seams with originality, wit and wonderful performances both from Bud Cort and Ruth Gordon, and the wonderful supporting cast. The social commentary has also come full circle and finds itself being as relevant today as it was back then, along with the message Maude has to her junior companion and of course ourselves, the audience.
All we have to remember is that everything will be okay, so, if you want to sing out, sing out, and if you want to be free, be free.
Harold and Maude will be showing at FACT this Sunday 19 April at 6pm as part of Vintage Sundays. Click here to book tickets.