There's something wrong with me because whenever I hear a film referred to as a "cult movie" I avoid it. "Withnail and I" was called a cult movie but it's an exception because it's actually pretty good. You have never heard insults and curses with so much elegance and filigree. They could tear a hole in the space/time continuum.
Richard Grant and Paul McGann are two young aspiring artists (of one sort or another, maybe acting and writing) living in a London flat that's so sloppy, so ill kept, so dishabillé, so DESECRATED, that it looks almost like my humble abandoned railway car.
Both are neurotics in the same way that both are artists. Grant is Withnail, tall and skinny, and McGann is the "I" in "Withnail and I." The former is given to an excess of alcohol from time to time, while the latter has anxiety attacks on a regular basis. "LOOK -- my THUMBS are going weird!" They're visited by a doper friend who has a cool exterior, what can be seen of it beneath the fright wig, and a speech impediment that renders even his slowest, most ominous threats harmless as a child's. "If I ever 'medicined' you, you'd think a bwain tumor was a birthday pwesent."
Withnail and I shake down Withnail's gay and wealthy uncle (Richard Griffiths) for the key to Griffith's weekend country house, which hasn't been used in years and turns out to be in ramshackle shape. Griffiths appears later in the film when he visits the two lads at the house and puts moves on McGann, scaring McGann to death, but Griffiths' best lines show up during his introduction. He says to his nephew, "Would you pour us a sherry, dear boy?" and then leaves the room for a moment, during which Grant hastily grabs the bottle and wordlessly chugalugs a couple of glasses worth. They begin discussing gardening. Griffiths love cauliflowers. "There's poetry in the cauliflower. Roses are the prostitutes of plants, just sitting there waiting to be pollinated by bees. But vegetables in general are noble. There's nothing like a firm young carrot." (Paraphrasing there.) The story weakens a bit at the country estate, a filthy place, and the weakest segment is Griffiths' visit that introduces a touch of pathos.
Finally, the duo return to their London flat to find it occupied by the doper and his colossal black friend. Some of the humor is kind of subtle so I'll point out an instance here. Throughout the movie, the two white guys have a tendency to Jimmi Hendrix and his blackish hard-rock electric guitar. When they get home from the country. Withnail and I find the bathtub occupied by the strange black guy with the Afro and he's listening to The Beatles, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." It's funny, see. The white guys listening to black rock and the black guy listening to The Beatles "White Album"? No? Am I committing the Texas sharpshooter fallacy? At the end, sadly, Withnail and I split up, for reasons not made too clear. And Withnail, the actor, addresses a zoo with wolves and comes out with some lines from Hamlet, which I am about to quote: "Recently, though I don't know why, I've lost all sense of fun, stopped exercising-the whole world feels sterile and empty. This beautiful canopy we call the sky-this majestic roof decorated with golden sunlight-why, it's nothing more to me than disease-filled air. What a perfect invention a human is, how noble in his capacity to reason, how unlimited in thinking, how admirable in his shape and movement, how angelic in action, how godlike in understanding! There's nothing more beautiful. Men don't interest me. No-women neither, but you're smiling, so you must think they do. We surpass all other animals. And yet to me, what are we but dust? " But Withnail's reshaped the lines so that the quotation ends with the dismal "dust." Then he tromps off through the torrent of rain. It would have been better, more filled with irony, if he'd just ended the quote with "There's nothing more beautiful." I mean, after all, why paint the lily?