Being There is a highly unusual and an unusually fine film. A faithful but nonetheless imaginative adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s quirky comic novel, pic marks a significant achievement for director Hal Ashby and represents Peter Sellers’ most smashing work since the mid-1960s.
Kosinski’s story is a quietly outrageous fable which takes Sellers from his position as a childlike, unblinking naif who can’t read or write to that of a valued advisor to an industrial giant and ultimately to the brink of a presidential nomination.
Tale possesses political, religious and consumer society undertones, but by no means is an overly symbolic affair trying to impress with its deep meanings.
Sellers’ performance stands as the centerpiece of the film, and it’s a beauty. Shirley MacLaine is subtle and winning, retaining her dignity despite several precarious opportunities to lose it. If such is possible in a picture dominated by Sellers, Melvyn Douglas almost steals the film with his spectacular performance as the dying financial titan.
1979: Best Supp. Actor (Melvyn Douglas).
Nomination: Best Actor (Peter Sellers)