Perhaps what is most interesting about Hal Ashby's 1971 film Harold and Maude is how long it took to get an audience. Since its release, the film has gained the reputation as a "cult classic" -- or a book or movie that is popular amongst a certain group in society.
At release, the film received very mixed reviews. Famed film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4; Vincent Canby of The New York Times also thought negatively of the film, writing: "[the actors] are so aggressive, so creepy and off-putting, that Harold and Maude are obviously made for each other, a point the movie itself refuses to recognize with a twist ending that betrays, I think, its life-affirming pretensions." Nevertheless, the film still received very solid reviews years after release. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film an approval rating of 84%; it has an audience approval rating of 93%. In their critics consensus, Rotten Tomatoes summed up critics' thoughts of the film: "Hal Ashby's comedy is too dark and twisted for some, and occasionally oversteps its bounds, but there's no denying the film's warm humor and big heart." Although, the film was made for a budget of merely $1.2 million, it took nearly 12 years for it to turn a profit.
The film tells the story of Harold Chasen (played brilliantly by Bud Cort, who received a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the film), a morose and strange teenager who is deeply unhappy with his life and who craves attention. To get the attention he so desperately craves, he frequently pretends to kill himself, especially in the company of his overbearing and nutty mother (played wonderfully by Vivian Pickles). One day, Harold meets an older woman named Maude (played by Ruth Gordon, who received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the film) at a funeral for a person that neither of them know. Eventually, the two bond and become very close friends (perhaps even boyfriend and girlfriend). It is Maude -- a Holocaust survivor -- that gets Harold out of his funk and transforms his life by showing that life is finite and ultimately, worth living to its fullest.