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Harry & Son
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by Jack Sommersby

"Hoary & Sententious"
2 stars

Didn't exactly set the world on fire, and it's easy to see why.

The incomparable Paul Newman is such an immensely gifted performer it's quite the crying shame he's chosen to waste his considerable talent in a forgettable piece of mishmash by the dire likes of the lachrymose family melodrama Harry & Son, not only starring in it but directing it, as well. Playing the lifelong construction worker Harry Keach who loses his job as a wrecking-ball operator after he nearly kills a man due to miscoordination due to unpredictable flashing lights in his eyes, he's his usual dependable self lending both verity and variety to the characterization, but Harry is basically a blue-collar cliche, forever nagging on his wannabe-writer son Howard (Robby Benson) into getting a "real job" objecting to Howard's car-wash/detailing business catering to wealthy clients in the lower level of a downtown Los Angeles office building. (With his good looks and buff musculature always working with his shirt off and clad in short shorts, it looks to the viewer he's probably pulling down as much wages as his old man.) Howard has a dream of being a best-selling novelist, but even though his submissions to publishers keep resulting in rejection notices he's still steadfast and adamant in seeing this through; when he defends his current failure informing Harry that Ernest Hemingway was turned down ninety-seven times before being discovered, his cranky dad asks him if he's trying to break that record. Harry's unfortunate disability has made him unemployable in his field, and he starts taking it out on his son, threatening him with staying at the YMCA if he doesn't find steady employment, which finds Howard at a low-level warehouse job feeding cardboard into a machine, and it takes him all of three entire minutes to become hopelessly bored and purposely fouls things up where he's fired so to be free of it. Obviously the movie is one of those generation-clashes tales, and the contrast between Harry and Howard is so speciously conceived there isn't so much as a refreshing insight to be found - it's all as subtle as rolling a bowling ball in an antique-vase factory. In an entirely superfluous subplot Howard befriends an old high-school sweetheart who's now pregnant by another man, and just so we can see he's willing to be responsible-minded and dedicated when the need arises, and the movie quickly goes downhill from there. I thought Benson agreeably winning in his star turn as the naive college basketball ace in the enjoyable One on One, but here required to project intelligence he just doesn't make the grade - with a grating high-pitched voice and physical inexpressiveness, he simply doesn't register on the silver screen and is borderline monotonous where everything he does is on a too-easy-to-read level, which is a considerable demerit when sharing scenes with someone like a stalwart like Newman who, through the thick and thin of the material's vacuousness, always comes across as creditable. It's a funny thing about Harry & Son in that Newman has employed a first-rate supporting cast (Wilford Brimley, Ossie Davis, Judith Ivey, Ellen Barkin) along with the Australian wunderkind of a cinematographer Donald McAlpine and the award-winning editor Dede Allen, and practically to no avail given the lackluster context that's no more complex or revealing than your typical TV Movie of the Week. Admittedly, Newman's directing is largely free of ostentatiousness aside from a few overhead shots that call undue attention to themselves, but just a couple of minutes shy of the two-hour mark the pacing is languid and the narrative drive practically nonexistent, with most of the scenes inadequately shaped and the structure episodic. Harry & Son is far from a disaster, but it's both puerile and preachy, and doesn't amount to a hell of beans in the end.

Not worthy of rediscovery.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33921&reviewer=327
originally posted: 11/30/20 11:46:37
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USA
  02-Mar-1984 (PG)

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Paul Newman

Written by
  Ronald Buck
  Paul Newman

Cast
  Paul Newman
  Robby Benson
  Ellen Barkin
  Wilford Brimley
  Judith Ivey



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