Fiction on Fiction in “Delirious”


  • Director: Tom Mankiewicz
  • Writer(s): Lawrence J. Cohen and  Fred Freeman
  • Starring: John Candy, Mariel Hemingway, David Rasche, and Charles Rocket
  • Released: August 9, 1991


The plot revolves around soap opera writer Jack Gable (John Candy), who, through the powers of a head-on collision, gets trapped in the melodramatic world of Ashford Falls, which is a setting that Gable himself dreamed up (thus the delirious aspect). In Ashford Falls, Gable meets Janet DuBois (Mariel Hemingway) and takes part in a long list of misadventures that ultimately lead to him understanding the importance of standing up for himself (not without a few front flips, horseback riding, and some fancy driving), and he also discovers that the woman he has been pining after is far more vapid than he first imagined.


I don’t think I would ever argue that John Candy is a master-level actor, but I would argue that he was certainly really good at playing endearing characters, which was probably a good place for him to be as he seemingly had to play the same character in every movie.

With that being said, Delirious (1991) is not a great movie, but it’s a film that I really just appreciate as an attempt at fantastical narrative, and I also really appreciate it as an ode to John Candy’s ability to make even the most intractable material seem great; and, this film is certainly all over the place, but, without a doubt, it’s really damn charming.

It’s a super basic plot (humdrum even), but it has a lot of surprises, too. For instance, Dylan Baker, who plays Blake Henderson, is quite entertaining throughout the film. He physically falls apart in each scene as he is being fed the wrong kind of drug by his insane brother that results in him getting sicker and sicker, and he also becomes more and more disgusting. The revulsion on some of the other character’s faces toward the end of the film is priceless. David Rasche is perfect as the slimy Dr. Paul Kirkwood, and Charles Rocket plays the conniving (and oh so dramatic) Ty Hedison with precision.

Mariel Hemingway provides charm in the film playing the rough-and-tumble DuBois. The nicest part about Hemingway is that she is effortlessly funny, much akin to her costar, which makes their scenes together fun and genuine. These kinds of comedies tend to have such wooden relationships that it makes for a nice change. Regardless, while she is a strong female lead, the film doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. It’s a film about a man, and so the women seemingly have to talk about that man (or men) because that’s what male writers believe women think about all the time. I can cut it some slack, though, as the setting invites this kind of sexism. I don’t recall many soap operas being rife with ideas of female liberation.


The true beauty of Delirious, which is often times aimless, is John Candy. I can’t think of another actor (maybe Sean Connery) whose sheer charisma and likability is enough to give a winning performance. Jack Gable is a John Candy character, without a doubt, but he also has little nuances here and there that makes him just different enough from Candy’s previous characters (for instance, he carries himself with a bit more bravado and a bit more sarcasm).

The plot is mostly nonsensical, though, (not Who’s Harry Crumb [1989] nonsensical), and derives most of its humor out of the premise (a writer gets trapped in his own piece of fiction and attempts to mold it with his imagination). The ramifications of Gable’s circumstances are capitalized on for humorous effect, and rightfully so, because there’s a lot of humor to be had out of the situation. A scene in which Candy chases down a love interest on horseback is a highlight (that stunt double is ridiculous).

Director Tom Mankiewicz makes good use of sight gags and low-level action to move the plot along to the next set piece or interaction. Earlier in his career, Mankiewicz had been a script doctor for numerous films and television series, and had also been given “creative consultant” credit by Richard Donner for both Superman: The Movie (1978) and Superman II (1980). He was also involved in writing the James Bond film’s Diamonds are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973), and he received shared credit for The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Considering his history, I can certainly see why Delirious is such a fun romp, even though I’m not a huge fan of either the Superman or James Bond franchises.

If you can look past the meandering plot and don’t mind a little silliness, then Delirious will be a treat.