Jerzy Kosinski's modern fable gets a terrific translation to the screen due to his tight screenplay, capable direction by Ashby, and a marvelous performance by Sellers, one unlike any other in his career.
Being There finds humor in the way Sellers becomes a blank screen on which people project their expectations. But it also finds value in his simplicity, which might seem like a lot of New Age hokum if not for Sellers' disarmingly quiet performance.
Being There is a highly unusual and an unusually fine film. A faithful but nonetheless imaginative adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's quirky comic novel, pic marks a significant achievement for director Hal Ashby and represents Peter Sellers' most smashing work since the mid-1960s.
The director, Hal Ashby, has affected a restrained, understated style to match the subtlety and precision of Sellers's performance. No one seems to know what to do with the allegorical undertone of Jerzy Kosinski's script, but as a whole this 1979 film maintains a fine level of wit, sophistication, and insight.
Sellers's performance—as the innocent neuter figure who rises accidentally to political power on the strength of vacant homilies—is remarkable. But Ashby's direction is marred by the same softness that made The Last Detail and Coming Home so morally bland.