Twenty-year-old Harold Chasen has some disturbing issues. Not unlike a present-day emo brat, he assembles elaborate pranks for parental attention, and the young Brit’s jokes are a bit grandiose: He fakes his death with theatrical precision. Harold takes delight in scaring everyone around him until the wisdom of 79-year-old hippie Maude (Ruth Gordon, “Rosemary’s Baby”) steers him down a brighter path. Commercially ignored during its initial release, 1971’s “Harold and Maude” has since become one of the most beloved cult comedies of its time. And with sharp wit, wicked set designs and spot-on performances, it’s no wonder.

What could’ve easily been an immature take on Harold’s unhappy youth is turned into multi-layered brilliance by Bud Cort (John Doe Jersey in “Dogma”). The actor manages to pull off a mixture of angst and child-like fiendishness without forcing it.

When he joins forces with the high-spirited Maude, their combination is simply hilarious. The two meet at a funeral when Maude strikes up a conversation with the painfully shy Harold while walking to a car. Maude then drives off – and Harold looks on in shock as the vehicle’s real owner goes running after it.

Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award for torturing Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby,” and she infuses Maude with the same elderly spunk (albeit a lot less satanic nosiness). Even when spitting out an occasional wise-elder platitude, Gordon does it with enough grit to make you forget its “Chicken Soup for the Soul”-likeness.

Outside of the two lead performances, the supporting cast shines – take special note of Harold’s long-suffering mother and her assembly line of prospective girlfriends and psychiatric help. With the combination of the direction of underrated Hal Ashby (“Being There”), a Cat Stevens soundtrack and some visually stunning backdrops, “Harold and Maude” is as quirky as it is understated – and highly effective.

Harold and Maude
Tonight at 7 p.m.
At the Michigan Theater

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