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The Tall Guy
★★★☆☆
First run Seenmorethanonce Theater cinema Screening room
For many years British comedy writer Richard Curtis worked in the shadow of comedian Rowan Atkinson. The two met at university writing for the Oxford Revue. Curtis then appeared alongside Atkinson at his breakthrough Edinburgh Fringe show, wrote sketches for him on the BBC series Not the Nine O'Clock News, and then created and co-wrote every episode of Atkinson’s hilarious historical sitcom Blackadder (from 1983 to 1989). So for his first feature film, Curtis crafted a story about the hapless second banana in a two-man show dominated by a powerful comedian (and he cast Atkinson as a more spiteful and narcissistic version of himself). For the lead role of the titular Tall Guy he cast the gangly American actor Jeff Goldblum, whose distinctly off-kilter handsomeness had made him a moviestar in David Cronenberg's The Fly (1986) after memorably appearing in ensemble films including Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), The Big Chill (1983), and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984). 

Goldblum’s striking height and peculiar mannerisms make him an ideal choice for Dexter King, Curtis’ listless American actor eaking out a living in London's Camdon Town area, playing a nothing role in someone else's successful show.  Chronic hayfever lands Dexter in a hospital where he meets Kate Lemmon, played by Emma Thompson in her first film role—a rare ingénue turn for the fabulous actress and writer. Thompson plays Kate in the grand tradition of non-nonsense but sexy as hell British nurses you fall in love with instantly, like Julie Andrews in The Americanization of Emily and Jenny Agutter in An American Werewolf In London). Thompson’s unique beauty and unpredictable acting choices match Goldblum’s odd rhythms perfectly. But their happily ever after is thwarted when Dexter is fired from his job and takes the title role in an Andrew Lloyd Webber style musical adaptation of The Elephant Man

The film is the directorial debut of Mel Smith, and his rookie technique keeps the film from attaining the kind of exquisitely balanced tone that Curtis would later achieve with director Mike Newell in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994). Many of Curtis’ narrative and comedic devices that would be refined in movies like Notting Hill (1999) are seen in their embryonic phase here. But the flaws in The Tall Guy are a big part of its idiosyncratic charm, and actually make it more enjoyable than Curtis’ later pictures: Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), Love Actually (2003), or About Time (2013). It would only take a few years after The Tall Guy for British movie comedies to fall into a formulaic rut (as most genres did in the ‘90s). But Curtis’ first feature comes by its quirkiness organically, made well before “quirky English comedy" became a highly marketable brand in the US. 

Twitter Capsule:
Smith's rookie technique and Curtis's embryonic feature writing yield a tepid rom-com but its quirky flaws are well suited to Goldblum and Thompson's idiosyncratic charms in this story of an awkward actor attempting to find love and work.  
Directed by Mel Smith
Produced by Paul Webster

Written by Richard Curtis

With: Jeff Goldblum, Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson, Geraldine James, Emil Wolk, Kim Thomson, Harold Innocent, Anna Massey, Derek Lyons, Richard Curtis, and Mel Smith

Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Editing: Dan Rae
Music: Peter Brewis

Runtime: 92 min
Release Date: 13 April 1989
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color