The Cult of Richard E. Grant’s Withnail and I Is Finally Having Its Moment
After decades of obsessively quoting Bruce Robinson’s 1987 comedy, Gen Xers are using Grant’s Oscar nomination as an excuse to teach a new generation to demand the finest wines available to humanity.
Bruce Robinson’s script for his 1987 cult classic, Withnail and I,wanders effortlessly between the high (a Hamlet soliloquy) and the low (“You can stuff it up your arse for nothing and fuck off while you’re doing it!”). But it’s the incandescent performance of Richard E. Grantthat sends the dark British comedy—about a couple of out-of-work actors—into the stratosphere of greatness.
So it’s less weird than it might at first seem that the movie which screened at New York’s Film Forum on Thursday night wasn’t the one that has earned Grant a best-supporting-actor Oscar nomination—Marielle Heller’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?, starring Melissa McCarthy—but the one that forged his legend more than three decades ago.
Over coffee in Brooklyn, I asked Grant if he could tell when he read the script for Withnail and I that it was a role for the ages? “I knew it bone-deep,” he said. “It made me laugh out loud, it was so brilliantly written. Even the stage directions were hilarious. I had also been unemployed for nine months, too, so it was the best preparation I could have had for playing an embittered unemployed actor.”