- Movie Rating -

Harry & Son (1984)

| March 2, 1984

I have had the misfortune to be in a restaurant having dinner when a family at another table decides to air out their differences so that the entire place could hear them.  This has happened more than once but the result is always the same.  The entire place goes quiet, the wait staff looks nervous, no one knows the nature of the argument and there is an uncomfortable pall that falls over the proceedings.  These people seem to have no respect for themselves and certainly not for each other.  We view then as low-class, crass and childish.

That is the feeling I had during Harry and Son, one of the most inept and uncomfortable family dramas that I’ve seen in maybe a decade.  It’s about very hateful people working through issues that I’m not sure I understood.  There are lots and lots of characters here, one more cartoonish than the last.  By the end I wasn’t sure if they had solved everything or, in fact, anything at all.  They have so many problems and are so seeded in their boiling hatred for one another that the best idea might have been for them to just stay away from each other – maybe different coasts.

Paul Newman reaches a career low as Harry Keach, a south Florida construction worker who operates the wrecking ball (both literally and figuratively).  One day his vision fails him and he becomes dizzy, losing control of the ball.  Whatever caused the dizziness is never really explained, never-the-less, he loses his job and stomps home feeling frustrated.  There he deals with his son Howard (Robby Benson) who works as a parking attendant but has aspirations on being a writer.  The old man hates his son’s ambition because he isn’t driven to blue collar work and wants to be a writer.  He does the things that kids do, he runs around with girls, goes surfing, hanging out in a hot tube, so naturally the old man hates his life.

The relationship between Harry and Howard is one of those phony father and son relationships that exist in bad movies where they’re always fighting and embarrassing themselves and then they make up only to start the whole thing all over again.  Whatever is going on between the two is never really explained except that the movie needs them to be mad at each other so they can patch things up.  You’re never really privy to the keys of their relationship.  Like those people in the restaurant, you’re on the outside looking in so you miss the important pieces of whatever the problems might be.

It wouldn’t matter anyway because it keeps getting distracted by a gaggle of visiting subplots and supporting players that march through the movie for no real reason.  There’s Harry’s brother who runs an army suplus store.  There’s a fortune teller who uses phenology.  There’s Howard’s girlfriend who is pregnant by a man that we never actually meet.  There’s an older black gentleman who takes over Howard’s job as an auto repossesser.  All of this, and a childbirth scene.

This is a collection of stuff.  Its narrative has no pacing, no direction, no dramatic arc.  It spins its wheels, turns its characters into cliches and spends way too much time forcing us through a lot of painful screaming matches.  This isn’t merely bad, it is aggressively bad.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Drama