The Arid Hilarity of Hal Ashby’s ‘Being There’

being there
By  · Published on November 21st, 2017

The political satire of the Hal Ashby classic is now depressingly desirable.

Director Hal Ashby and the Coen Brothers share much of their comedy DNA. Both parties enjoy making situations as dry as possible before sprinkling in a zesting of the absurd to reassure the audience that the only crazy thing here…is everything. In Ashby’s masterpiece Being There, this gag structure is carefully honed, so delicate that it’s hard to recognize.

What the Criterion Collection terms the “carefully calibrated minimalism of Hal Ashby’s masterful satire,” every scene of Being There seems undercut. The soundtrack and editing combine to make each frame a ridiculous impulse from a delusional brain, and David Cairns’ video essay is here to help us dissect the gags.

The true blissful ignorance of the film is as widespread and politically relevant now as it was in the Reagan era, and Ashby’s complete dedication to the straight-faced silliness makes Being There one of the best idiot films of all time.

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Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).