But also often overlooked on Curtis's resumé is his first film, The Tall Guy (1989)—and that's a shame. Yes, it's much of the same as his other flicks: a lovable, eccentric, floppy-haired hapless would-be lover's escapades set to British pop music of the seventies and eighties. (Never let it be said that Richard Curtis doesn't focus on his strengths.) That aforementioned heighty fella is sad sack Dexter King, played with appropriate pathos by Jeff Goldblum.
Goldblum has, I think, a deft comic touch that's let his rise above the material in fairly mediocre films like eighties films Earth Girls Are Easy and Transylvania 6-5000. What can he do given a good script? Well, really shine, as The Tall Guy shows us.
The usual elements of a Richard Curtis film are all in place (if not entirely refined), including the wacky roommate—this time Geraldine James as a cheerful nymphomaniac in a succession of stylish hats.
There's the disabled pal (Tim Barlow as a blind man allergic to his guide dog) and longtime Curtis collaborator Rowan Atkinson steals scenes as comedian Ron Anderson, the comedy star boss to Dexter's beleaguered straight man (mirroring, but with definitely more venom, Curtis's own on-stage work and relationship with Atkinson).
Like any good Curtis character, Dexter's wistfully looking for love, and he and Curtis, and we luck out when he falls in love with nurse Kate Lemmon (Emma Thompson). Yes, that Emma Thompson.
Before the Nancy McPhee wart makeup, before the Branagh-esque Shakespeare movies, before the Oscar for Jane Austen adaptation, Thompson was actually quite an accomplished comedienne , starring alongside Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Ben Elton, and the members of the Comedy Store (which led to The Young Ones and French and Saunders). She is also devastatingly witty and sexy in this, her first major screen role. Thompson's subsequent work would sharpen her skills, but it's fun to see her play a little broader, a little bigger than her later movies—still dry and sarcastic, bemoaning her fate to be named Kate Lemmon. ("It could have been worse," muses Dexter. "You could have been called Hitler, or Tampon.")
Not just Kate Lemmon but Curtis's other characters are still a wee bit unpolished and unhoned compared to his later films (true, Goldblum can't pull off quite the level of bumbling lovableness Hugh Grant would in Curtis's later movies) and his dialogue and scripting are a little rough. (There's a slapstick sex scene which is actually more painful to watch than either funny or sexy), and there's a long and silly digression into Dexter's success on stage in a musical version of The Elephant Man (called, of course, Elephant!).
Not yet here is the empathy and strength of the grand circle of friends Curtis would surround his protagonists with, and the roller-coaster track of love lost and regained (aw, it's a Richard Curtis film, surely I'm not spoiling the plot for you with that) is decidedly less subtle: boy and girl fall in love, boy cheats on girl, boy goes through hell, boy regains girl. The Tall Guy is decidedly good light romantic fun and a head above most of the other romantic comedies of the time, but perhaps its become an Unknown Film because Curtis's later works follow the same pattern but with greater skill and wit. So look at it then not as the epitome of Curtis's career—he's still making films and I hope they'll actually be released in the US this time around—but as a solid beginning to a critically-acclaimed career, writing a decent funny and sexy romp. And not only do we discover what totally excellent musical taste Dexter King has...
...but we also get to see Emma Thompson in turquoise and orange pajamas.
Who could ask for anything more?
The Tall Guy is available on DVD.