Being There will make you wonder where you are and why you’re there the whole time until at the end you finally understand. Hal Ashby (director) seems to manage to keep an ongoing joke last much longer than it needs to, to the point where you begin to question if finishing the movie is worth it at all.
However, if you can stick around to the end, you will be left pleasantly surprised and feel surprisingly pleasant. Chance (Peter Sellers) is an unordinary gardener who has lived his entire life within the walls of his master’s home. All he knows is what he has seen on television, which happens to be his favorite thing to do. When his master dies, he falls into the world unknown to him, that is, the everyday world that he has somehow avoided. He is picked up by Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine), who, with the help of her dying husband Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas), introduces him to a world of wealth and power and politics, where his dimwitted (or brilliant?) mind lead him to become a well respected and sought after man in Washington D.C.
Ashby does not leave us disappointed with this film. He grabs you in at the beginning by starting off relatively interesting and witty, loses you somewhere in the middle by dragging and carrying on throughout the movie, to the point where you suspect nothing more will come out of it than the unusual advice of a simple-minded gardener who only wants to watch television, until the last few moments when the transcendental happens, and your own way of thinking begins to alter and expand in a very illuminating way and makes you want to rewatch the movie all over again.
Ashby captures this repetitive joke that men in powerful positions are easily captured by Chance’s advice, even though he is an illiterate gardener, to the point that he himself becomes considered to run for presidential office. Ashby keeps everything uncomplicated, however, just like Chance, as though the film itself is a representation of the main character. He also portrays each scene very simply, yet frames it as though it were a work of classic art, very beautiful and captivating, yet very tiring after a while. I have to say that Ashby took a bit of a risk with this film, after the somewhat recent release of Star Wars just two years before, the late 70’s was all about Syfy and space, not somber, dark comedies.
As Peter Sellers' last work, he keeps you entertained throughout and enlightens you at the end. His character is not the brightest of folks, yet influences important people from thinking he knows how to fluently speak Russian, to ways to run a country. He is the only thing that really keeps you intrigued throughout the entire movie because you do not expect him to become as influential as he does. He keeps you slightly on your toes, waiting to find out if his true identity and social status will emerge, leaving him back out on the street with only a suitcase and remote control. Above all other aesthetic categories of the film, Sellers' excellent and engaging performance most definitely steals the show, which is what led him to earn a Golden Globe and be a nominee for an Academy Award as best lead actor.