Sunday, 24 December 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: DELIRIOUS (1991)


54. “Where are you doing here? I sent you to Cleveland.”



24/12/2017




I set out to choose a film at random from Netflix – knowing I needed to write something, I started watching “Delirious” within three minutes of arriving home from a walk – I didn’t expect to choose a film where the whole premise is based on the lead character being a writer, and where one of its real-life writers had died last week. Lawrence J. Cohen had written, with Fred Freeman, the disaster film parody “The Big Bus,” and the twin-swapping comedy “Start the Revolution Without Me,” but their career is rooted firmly in television sitcoms like “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Bewitched.”

“Delirious” stars John Candy as a soap opera writer who is caught in a very high-concept Hollywood film-type situation: after hitting his head on his car boot lid, he wakes up as a character inside of his own creation. He wrote the “bible” for the show, so he knows what is supposed to be happening. He is secretly in love with the star of the show in real life, but can actually do something about it now. A character he could not get into the show suddenly turns up. If he is caught in a situation he doesn’t like, he can literally write himself out of it, using his magic MacGuffin of a typewriter, that was packed into his car. So far, so much of a power fantasy – he even saves one character by writing into the show that he can now ride a horse, which is later swapped for a Ferrari.


The real world apparently still has an impact – executive meddling creates an alternate version of Candy, played by Robert Wagner who, not knowing he is Robert Wagner, asks Candy why he is impersonating him. Other characters change, he tries to type them back into shape. Out of frustration, he breaks his MacGuffin, meaning he has to use his smarts instead…

I know this is vague, but this is the mechanism of a seemingly Truman Show-like plot that has a US soap opera story slathered over the top – all people with vendetta, secret formulas and eye patches. I thought the object of Candy’s desires was meant to be a parody of Alexis Carrington, the “Dynasty” character played by Joan Collins, and then I found that Emma Samms, the actress playing the parody, played a Carrington as well. What is also vague is how, when Candy wakes up, he suddenly uses what he learnt in his dream state to apply to real life: he knows how to use the Heimlich manoeuvre, he punches the writer that was changing his plot, and he finds the actress that should be in his show by hearing, in a deli restaurant replicated in his dream, the same order she made in that dream, and the resulting disdain from the deli owner – there is no basis for this, other than an incredible coincidence.

Bearing in mind that I came across “Delirious” at random, would I recommend it to anyone else? If you like John Candy, you get John Candy playing the John Candy role: someone seemingly more successful and happy in life than others think he should be – see “King Ralph” and “Uncle Buck” for further details. However, in a film where his character can get the girl by writing it on his magic typewriter, there might be a little too much fantasy for some.

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