I was fooled once again. Like Beginners, I expected Harold and Maude to be quirky and charming, with a touch of humor in a film about living life to the fullest. Instead, I just got a meandering account of their various exploits that left me bored and anxiously awaiting the end of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong; there are a lot of great elements to the movie and the message it is trying to impart is clear, but it simply wasn’t executed in an interesting manner. Ruth Gordon is fabulous as the vivacious Maude who epitomizes carpe diem. She has great tidbits of advice for Harold about life. The Cat Stevens song “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” is clearly the theme of the film, and his music as a whole was put to great use, particularly in the montage scenes. However, I didn’t find their various activities (like stealing a city curbside tree to plant it in a forest) very funny. For much of the film their activities seemed pretty pointless and could have simply been put in a montage.
While I liked Harold’s constant fake suicides, as well as his mother’s lack of reaction to them, and his silent rebellion against his mother, I wished he talked to Maude more. Oftentimes she would just talk at length and Harold would stare at her, sometimes with adoration. As for their romance, I guess I can kind of see why Harold would like Maude, but their relationship was still a bit unrealistic. I didn’t find Maude’s actions that charming, or the fact that she got away with everything, and I can’t see why she would like Harold since he rarely conversed with her. On a side note, I was quite disturbed by the sight of 20 something-year-old Harold and 79 year-old Maude, lying in bed together, presumably after they had sex.
The biggest problem with this movie is the script. The writer tried too hard to be clever (Maude’s dialogue is full of quotable lines) making much of the film’s plot hard to decipher and trying too hard to be inspirational. The only really funny parts are provided by Harold’s appearance obsessed mother who Vivian Pickles portrays perfectly. It is because of the writing that I didn’t really understand Harold and Maude’s “stories,” which I presume were supposed to make us connect with them (but failed to). According to imdb, Harold’s fake suicides were because his mother only showed real emotion when she heard he died in a fire at school. The film did a horrible job of indicating this, and the same goes for the random shot of a number tattooed on Maude’s arm, which I guess is supposed to be a remnant of a concentration camp.
Harold and Maude is simply another “seize the day” story told in a boring way. Since I am a film major, I found some enjoyment from the large number of wide shots and symmetry, which made for beautiful and interesting cinematography.