Peter Sellers stars as Chance the Gardner, a guy who is clearly a few sandwiches short of a picnic, if you catch my drift. When he isn’t tending to his garden, he’s obsessively watching television. One day, his benefactor dies and Chance must leave the house for the first time in his life. Through a set of somewhat contrived circumstances (which is fitting I guess, given that his name is Chance after all), he becomes best friends with a dying billionaire (Melvyn Douglas), romances the sick dude’s wife (Shirley MacLaine), and becomes a top advisor to the President (Jack Warden); all because he constantly spouts gardening advice that people mistake for life-changing metaphors.
I will admit right up front that I am not the world’s biggest Peter Sellers fan. While I loved him in Dr. Strangelove; the Pink Panther movies were definitely not my cup of tea and his performance in Lolita was downright irritating. In Being There, he defied the odds and gave me a pretty great performance. I thought at the beginning he was going to get on my nerves, but his performance became endearing rather quickly.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good Idiot Becomes a Hero Movie. Just like Corky Romano, this Chance guy will say something dumb and the people around him misconstrue what he says as wisdom. The whole premise asks (allow me to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi for a second) who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him? It’s a pretty good message and fortunately, director Hal (Harold and Maude) Ashby doesn’t beat us over the head with it.
Sure, the film has it’s share of problems. It’s overlong, has a couple of half-baked subplots (like the FBI and CIA trying to look into Chance’s past), and the pacing is spotty. I still say that any movie in which Shirley MacLaine (looking like a fox) masturbates is top notch in my book.