This 1990 movie is directed by Mel Smith of Not the Nine O’Clock News and Alas Smith and Jones
The Tall Guy of the title, Dexter King (Jeff Goldblum), is an actor. His greatest desire is a starring role in a decent stage production. Instead, he’s stuck as the straight man to comedian Ron Anderson – played brilliantly by Rowan Atkinson – and the constant butt of his cruel slapstick gags.
It’s no wonder, then, that Dexter is neurotic, and plagued with allergies. These allergies, naturally, take him to the Doctor’s surgery, where he first catches sight of Nurse Kate Lemon, all no-nonsense practicality, and falls instantly and head over heels in lust. In order to get close to this woman of his dreams (Emma Thompson in her big screen debut) Dexter invents a series of excuses to get immunisations: proof of his passion, did Kate but know it, since he has a long standing and deep-seated fear of needles.
Eventually, with help and encouragement from his nymphomaniac flatmate Carmen (Geraldine James) Dexter manages to persuade Kate to date him, when he discovers that her approach to romance is as pragmatic and down-to-earth as the rest of her personality: she believes that a couple should start by having sex, just to be sure it’s worthwhile spending all that time and money on long evenings in expensive restaurants.
What follows is, in my opinion, the best sex scene in the history of cinema. There’s no soft-focus stroking and arching, no seamless shifting through positions 1-28 of the Karma Sutra. Instead, there’s a couple, obviously completely involved in each other and the moment, rolling wildly and happily around a very untidy flat. Things get crushed beneath Kate and Dexter’s combined weight, or tumble as the couple roll against the surface they were standing on. The progress of their lovemaking is a trail of destruction, but they are far too caught up in what they’re doing to care. The scene for me has always pointed out one of life’s great truths – that sex, both the act and our constant preoccupation with it, is really quite ridiculous and laughable – but damn it’s fun!
So now, Dexter’s truly, genuinely and quite dizzily in love. He’s also jobless, as he stands up to Ron Anderson, and gets fired for his trouble.
This is the point that things start to get really surreal as Dexter suddenly bags the starring role in the latest greatest stage musical – Elephant! The all-singing all-dancing story of the life of John Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’ . This section is a brilliant spoof of some of the RSCs experimental productions of the era as everyone treats this monumental disaster of an idea with deadly seriousness, even when singing songs with titles like Somewhere up in Heaven there’s an Angel with Big Ears. At the same time, a fling with his leading lady nearly derails Dexter’s relationship with Kate.
This is unashamed romantic comedy, written by Richard Curtis who went on to produce Four Weddings and A Funeral and Notting Hill , and with much the same quirky, ensemble feel.
Jeff Goldblum is wonderful in the title role, portraying the whole bundle of insecurities that is Dexter, and capturing the giddiness of a man in love beautifully. Emma Thompson is impressive in the much less showy part of Kate, and Rowan Atkinson makes a delightfully obnoxious and stingy “big star”.
This is a genuinely funny and happy-making movie. Rent it, and laugh.