The Tall Guy (1989) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

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 works.

Agent: The universe is mysterious.


Emma Thompson is topless in a riotous sex scene with Jeff Goldblum.

There is a brief look at one breast from Joanna Kanska

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 wondering)

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1

  • no extras

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 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!

The Critics Vote

  • Ebert 3.5/4. I agree with him. A near-masterpiece.

The People Vote ...


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B. Brilliant, overlooked comic gem.

Tuna says: The Tall Guy (1989) is proof that comedy can be a very subjective genre. Scoop, who I nearly always agree with, loved it, getting many belly-laughs. It didn't elicit as much as a broad smile from me. I think part of the reason was that I didn't really like Goldblum's character. I did enjoy the performance by Emma Thompson as the nurse Kate Lemmon and Goldblum' love interest. Make my score C.

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