Joe’s Blog

The Tall Guy (1989)

January 29, 2009 5:34 am

tall guy


Richard Curtis is such an enigma, I swear he has an evil doppleganger who is going around trying to bismirch his good name.

How else can you explain that the same man who wrote Blackadder also created The Vicar of Dibley? Or that th eman who gave us the witty and emotional Four Weddings and a Funeral also gave us the cynical, emotionless Notting Hill?

 (And the least said about Love Actually the better, except that Lady Scaramanga has vowed never to watch it again, and she’s seen Notting Hill at least five times!)

 For me, Curtis’ masterpiece, in cinematic terms at least, is the underrated and near-enough forgotten The Tall Guy. It’s a film that remembers it’s a comedy first, then a romance; it laid down the ground rules for Brit RomComs for years to come (for better or worse) and gave the world probably the greatest sex scene ever (of which more later).

 In terms of structure, anyone who’s never seen it before will see we are in familiar territory. Jeff Goldblum is the lovable loser who just can’t find the right girl. His circle of friends include his nympho flatmate, a funny foreigner and a blind man (the disabled friend would become a Curtis fixture; here it’s simply for comedic effect rather than as a crowbar plot device in the final reel).

 Whilst recieving injections for allergies, he meets and falls in love with kooky nurse, Emma Thompson (never lovlier than she is here), and their relationship goes through the standard cinematic motions.

 Also in the mix is Goldblum’s employer. Rowan Atkinson plays the odious and ridiculously successful comedian Ron Anderson. Goldblum is Anderson’s straight man in his West End show, and he eventually gets fired after missing a show. Anderson is such a wonderful creation, mainly because, if rumours are true, his persona is not a million miles away from Atkinson’s. Only Curtis and director Mel Smith (yes, THAT Mel Smith) could have possibly persuaded him to do it.

 Following a hilarious montage of Goldblum trying out for various ‘legitimate’ theatre productions (the Berkoff is easily my favourite), he lands the plum role in a vulgar new West End musical based on the life of John Merrick, called, simply, Elephant! (exclamation mark included).

 And so on, until Goldblum and Thompson split, then get together again for a slow-mo hug in the middle of casualty.

 It all sounds dreadful, and it very nearly could have been. Watching with cynical eyes everything seems cliched up to the hilt. But it’s like watching the original Halloween now: it only seems cliched because everything that followed ripped it off so much.

 There’s so much good stuff here, it’s difficult to know where to start, so I’ll start at the end, or rather Goldblum and Thompson’s ends.

 The sex scene they share together is easily the funniest ever put on screen (funnier even than Body of Evidence) as the pair proceed to wreck Thompson’s flat in a fit of hormones. Anyone who says they don’t find the sight of a piece of toast stuck to Emma Thompson’s bum funny is either lying or dead.

 Then there’s Elephant! A musical so tasteless and vulgar you’d swear it had been running for ten years in the West End. We get glimpses of what’s in store through the various rehearsal scenes, but actually witnessing it is pure joy.

The sight of Thompson barely able to believe what she’s seeing, whilst Goldblum’s flatmate sits there lapping up every awful second of it is a wonderful piece of acting from both actresses.

 There’s also one-liners to die for (“What in the name of Judas Iscariot’s bumboy is going on?”; “I hope all your children have very small dicks! And that includes the girls!”), blink-and-you’ll-miss-em appearances by Angus Deayton, Mel Smith himself and Jason Isaacs.

 This being a romantic comedy, of course, the path of true love never runs smooth, and everything is rather too neatly wrapped up at the end, but by then  you just don’t care because you’ve had such a laugh for the past 90 minutes.

And who knew that all you had to do was take this formula and change the sex of your imported American star to take over the world?

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