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What's the story?
Hal Ashby's 1971 black comedy Harold and Maude attained cult status for its portrayal of a morbid youth who falls in love with a spirited woman not twice, but four times his age. Maude's (Ruth Gordon) full-throttle zest for life inspires young Harold (Bud Cort), who is dramatically obsessed with death. It's a disquieting premise for a movie, certainly, but to dwell on the age difference of the characters is to miss the movie's point. More than a friend or lover, Maude infects the troubled Harold with her carpe diem attitude, freeing him from the inner demons of boredom and self-pity. In essence, she's his salvation.
Is it any good?
This wonderfully rich black comedy has a way of putting life's problems in perspective, especially for troubled youths. The movie's stormy themes may strike a special cord with teenagers who feel at times that no one understands them. They, and adults as well, will appreciate the dark humor that leads to a bright resolution. Parents of young teens, however, should be cautioned about mature subject matter and sexual situations.
Alarmingly pale Bud Cort gives us an idea of what frail Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol might look like at age 20, and Ruth Gordon's sprightliness lends the perfect counterbalance. Their performances earned them each a well-deserved Golden Globe nomination. The Cat Stevens soundtrack hasn't lost its impact over the years. In a movie that references Vietnam, his songs feel as natural a Volkswagen Bug and girls named Sunshine. The lyrics speak for the characters, reminding us that if you want to sing out, sing out, and if you want to be free, be free.
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