Now that the world has generally acknowledged
Groundhog Day to be a top comedy, The Tall Guy may be the most
underrated comedy at IMDb. This movie is one funny mofo, written by
the same guy who wrote Blackadder, Four Weddings and a Funeral,
Notting Hill, and Bridget Jones's Diary. He also wrote much of the
Mr Bean material, but I guess we can forgive him for that, based
upon his good deeds elsewhere. This is the rare movie which is both
very intelligent and very funny, like the best work of Woody Allen
or Steve Martin, but it is edgier, more stinging, and just generally
bitchier than either Steve or Woody.
Jeff Goldblum is the tall Woody Allen of the film,
playing an American actor stuck in a dead-end stage job in London,
as the anonymous sidekick who gets bopped over the head by an
acclaimed baggy-pants slapstick comedian, played to perfection by
that ubiquitous presence in all British comedies, Rowan Atkinson.
Although Rowan is all smarmy rubber-faced charm on stage, and is a
Fawltyesque suck-up to the Royal Family, he is in fact a petty
person who despises anyone who gets a bigger laugh than he.
After six years of playing Rowan's stooge in baggy
pants revues, Goldblum gets sacked, leaving him with very few
opportunities. He goes to his agent, and the conversation goes
something like this:
Agent: You have to take what you
can get. You have been out of circulation for six years, and 73%
of all actors are unemployed.
Goldblum: And yet Roger Moore
Agent: The universe is
That conversation led him to the lead role in a
musical comedy based upon The Elephant Man, called (appropriately
enough) "Elephant!". This show is hilarious. The author is obviously
not a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber, because he has managed to take all
of the musical and stylistic excesses of Webber's (and Sondheim's)
musicals and combine them into a tasteless new pastiche. The songs
really sound like they are right out of a Webber musical, but the
words are blackly comedic. When the Elephant Man dies, heaven
welcomes an "angel with big ears".
Ostensibly, this movie is a simple romantic comedy
about a relationship between Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson, who
plays a prim nurse with a volcanic sexual nature hidden beneath her
starched whites. The film handles that with aplomb as well. The sex
scene between Goldblum and Thompson is excellent, and laugh-out-loud
funny - a parody of all of those movie scenes where the couple is
swept away by passion. At one point they have all four feet on a
piano keyboard, and are playing chords as they frolic. After they
finish, their room looks a hotel room in war-torn Sarajevo after a
weekend stay by Kid Rock.
The film is filled with obscure and fun
references, like an episode of the Simpsons or a Dennis Miller rant.
In fact, the London song which opens "Elephant" is very similar to
the Simpsons' famous New Orleans song in their musical version of A
Streetcar Named Desire. (This movie came first, if you are
Some of my favorite lines in the movie were
complete throwaways. Goldblum at one point is watching an award show
rooting for anyone to beat Atkinson. One of the other nominees for
"best comedic actor" was Christopher Reeve in "Whoops, Hamlet".
Another was "Dudley Moore for Death of a Salesman". Well, I suppose
that play would be sort of funny with Dudley in it. Or at least as
funny as anything else with Dudley in it. Now that I think about it,
maybe Dudley would be more effective in a play where the audience is
not supposed to laugh. Certainly he wouldn't have had that much
trouble adjusting to the absence of laughter.
There is no absence of laughter in this movie. I
laughed out loud through most of the film. This movie is so-o-o
good, and nobody has ever heard of it!