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4/6/09

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I decided to see Happy Birthday Harris, Malden because it was one of the few comedies playing at my local fest, the Ashland Independent Film Festival. My main reason for seeing it was the trailer below, which I thought made the film look funny in an offbeat way. With the idea of a guy who's psychologically compelled to draw on a mustache every day being something I hadn't seen before. I'm always looking for anything new in film.

The film started off promising, with some fun credits created by animated cardboard cutouts, that tells us Harris's back-story. Unfortunately that proved to be the highlight of the film. I was into Harris for about 10 minutes, they quickly introduce us to the cast of characters; Harris, his brother Melvin, best friend Paul and Paul's girlfriend Susan. Each of their introductions made them seem like interesting characters that would be fun to follow for the next 90 minutes, but unfortunately none of them really grew beyond their first impression. With all of them suffering from major cases of arrested development.

Harris is supposed to be the most messed up because he wears a fake mustache, which his friends and family have been letting him live with, because they believe it helps him deal with the death of his father. Beyond that, he may be the most steady man in the group. (Which now that I'm thinking about it, may have been the point of the film.) Paul is a 25-year-old, somewhat successful architect, who still lives with his grandmother, and is scared of moving in with his girlfriend. When he and Susan get in a fight, he acts like a toddler throwing a fit. Harris's brother Melvin lives in a completely delusional world, which is made worse when a commercial director "discovers" him and constantly refers to him as a future superstar. The scene where they're shooting a commercial in front of a green screen, with imaginary dragons attacking Melvin and two scantily-clad girls, is one of the funniest in the film. Susan plays the stick-in-the-mud girlfriend who wants to pull Paul into the adult world, she causes a major rift in the boys world when she tells Harris his mustache is fake. Paul's grandma, who everybody calls Grams, is also a significant character, she's the kooky voice of reason.

The main problem with the film is that is floats somewhere between a realistic drama and a quirky other-world comedy like Napoleon Dynamite. None of the characters rings true as a real person, and while the acting is universally poor, a lot of the fault falls on the dialog. I'm not sure if this film was badly written or badly improvised, either way, the characters often seem to be having their own conversations, with nobody addressing each other in a real world fashion. Their acting style suggests that they're not trying to create realistic characters, but their actions aren't out-there enough to create an alternate universe.

I really don't like bad-mouthing independent films, there is so much love and work that go into making a film, even more so when budgets are extremely low. So I applaud them for putting this film together, unfortunately it is a jumbled mess. One example of this is Harris's mustache, which constantly fluctuates between being drawn-on and a glued-on felt one, which I'm guessing the filmmakers are hoping we wouldn't notice. Happy Birthday, Harris Malden was written, directed and stars a group that calls themselves Sweaty Robot. Although they went down swinging with this film, there's enough here to suggest that they possibly have a good film in their future. There are a few good moments peaking through, a flash of true comedy here, a dash of real drama there, and I also thought that the film was nicely shot and edited for such a low budget feature. Sweaty Robot, I promise to watch your next film, but if it falls as flat as Harris, I'll probably give up. - Grade: C-




1 Response to Happy Birthday, Harris Malden:

  1. I usually hate movie reviews because they always give you this over analyzed response to make the movie sound like crap even when it's typically a pretty darn good movie. This review said everything that I would have never been able to put into words.

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