The Book makes a big to-do about how Harold and Maude is truly a cult film in its very definition, unlike how the word is thrown at every low-key/low-budget film filled with quirks and strangeness nowadays. To be fair, Harold and Maude is very much a film filled with quirks and strangeness, so maybe the Book’s assertion that this film deserves and has earned the cult label more than others is a bit of a misnomer, since Harold and Maude fits the bill of a cult film pretty exactingly. Where other rom-coms try and milk relatable humor out of situations, Harold and Maude takes quirky to a whole new level.
Harold is a young man on the cusp of adulthood, in a household run by his stringent mother, who seems all too willing to try and take command of his life in ways that Harold himself is lack to. Harold, instead, nurses his fascination with death, staging elaborate fake suicide attempts that only earn him chagrin from his mother, and attending funerals despite the fact that he knows no one at any of them. It is at one funeral that he first runs into Maude, an eccentric free spirit on the verge of her 80th birthday, and the two form an unlikely connection, which (atypically for a film of such characters) blossoms into an actual romantic relationship. The characters of Harold and Maude are, fittingly, the centerpiece of the film, with Harold’s moribund suicide attempts providing most of the black humor, such as during a fixed date in which Harold, in the background, is found self-immolating, only to inexplicably appear from the next room. Maude, on the other hand, is filled with a zest for life, and imparts her offbeat brand of wisdom on Harold whenever they meet, providing a nice juxtaposition. It’s the characterization, as well as the acting behind it, that is the crown jewel of the film, though the script has much to do with how successful that turns out to be, which is a lot.
Boy, did I like this one. It had just about everything you could want in a cult film, as well as anything you could want in an all-around good film as well. Too many films try and go the weird route and just end up coming off as self-indulgent about it, but Harold and Maude strikes the right chord, focusing on the story and the characters, and letting the weirdness develop naturally from them. I’d be really hard-pressed to find a section or group of moviegoers who wouldn’t find something to like about Harold and Maude, and that’s an all-too-rare thing to say about a film, as I’ve found lately. This is a nice little hidden gem, and I’m glad to have seen it, and I have a good inkling I’m not the only one to say that about this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10