Best Movie Ever?: “What’s Up, Doc?”

You know what I want? Fast-talking women. Carnage. Fanny Brice handing Ryan O’Neal his own ass. Screwball timing like a cocaine-powered metronome. San Francisco. Madeline Kahn stammering in a pumpkin-sized wig. Madeline Kahn always.

Kids, it’s all in What’s Up, Doc?, the zaniest comedy of the ’70s and a timeless blast of perfect one-liners. Peter Bogdanovich‘s gem celebrates its 40th birthday this year, and thankfully Barbra Streisand has laid off the self-tanner since then. Hard to believe we’re all not sitting in a circle right now and gasping at each other, “Guys, there was once a movie based on Looney Tunes that starred Barbra Streisand and Madeline Kahn. WHAT. WHAT.” I could watch it again and again, and thus it qualifies for “Best Movie Ever?” status. Here are five more reasons why.

1. Best romantic comedy introduction scene ever?

Basically, What’s Up, Doc? is about four different people who check into San Francisco’s Hotel Bristol; coincidentally, they all have the exact same plaid suitcase, and that confusion leads to, uh, confusion. And spitfire dialogue, romantic entanglements, kookiness, chase sequences, intrigue, and enough wacky plot threads to satisfy a season of Lost. Right at the start, mild-mannered geologist Howard Bannister (Ryan O’Neal) finds himself away from his asthmatic, worrywart wife Eunice (Madeline Kahn), and a quizzical little scamp named Judy Maxwell (Barbra Streisand) corners him in the hotel gift shop. Their exchange? A duet of neurosis and nuttiness. And Barbra just pummels every punchline, exhibiting a puckishness that truly builds upon and advances her work in Funny Girl. It is honestly a riot, and almost too many jokes to handle. Love how she says “micas.”


2. Madeline Kahn’s film debut is (sigh) mesmerizing.

Madeline Kahn is that rare actress whose performances feel warmer and lovelier the more insane and absurd they get. Like fellow ’70s superhero Gilda Radner, she goes there when she goes insane, raising her voice several octaves and morphing from a stately upper-crust girl to the battiest thing you’ve ever seen. She’s both a lady and a Muppet, and in What’s Up, Doc?, her feature premiere, she pesters Ryan O’Neal with such agitating tonality that it’s fair to call her a human kazoo. She’d earn Oscar nominations for Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles — and she’d certainly garner a cult following with her work in Clue — but there’s something particularly precious about her feature debut. It’s righteously out of control. I shriek with laughter every time I listen to the nonsense noises of discomfort she makes while reading The Sensuous Woman in bed.


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