Movie review: The Thing About Harry #queerscreen

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

The Thing About Harry is a deceptively simple film.

It looks for all the world, which is quite appropriate because it is, like your usual pleasantly-delivered, joyously light and fluffy romantic comedy replete with attraction, misunderstanding and eventual coming together, the kind that makes the heart swoon and the world look a lot more loving and caring and sweet.

To be fair, that is largely what it is, an undemanding romp into queer love, which for all its welcome prominence in popular culture at the time is still nowhere common enough for many LGBTQ people looking to see themselves on screen, which never really ventures far beyond the usual formula we expect from these stories.

The characters are drop dead beautiful, impossibly witty and clever, possessed of a complete lack of emotional nous when the narrative demands it and buoyantly full of it when the storyline switches gear, with the film bearing all the hallmarks of a modern gay fairytale writ large on the romanticised streets of Chicago (it’s great to see a city other than New York, gorgeously evocative though it is, getting some of the rom-com setting limelight).

It is, in many ways, a perfect fine and light romantic comedy.

There are many who will stop there, dismissing it as little more than a queer diversionary escapist fantasy with all the froth and bubble you could want from this kind of story.

But dig a little deeper and there is something rather wonderful going on here, thematically at least.

At the heart of the story, which granted does have some weird emotional hard-turns that smack of narrative convenience than actual emotional authenticity – the inevitable third act falling out feels woefully contrived and unrealistic, even for marshmallow unreality of the genre – sits one of those rare events the wounded heart cries out for but rarely gets to see – good old-fashioned closure.

Though therapists talk of it as if it’s lying on the ground for anyone to trip over, the hard cold truth is that we rarely, if ever, get a chance to resolve festering hurts from our past.

We might imagine how we’d turn the tables on a terrible ex or confront the bully who tormented us with wise, unchallengeable words and sassy, unfearful attitude, but in real life, that almost never happens.

Which of course makes it perfect fodder for a film like The Thing About Harry (and yes, the expected song does make a rather imaginatively rendered appearance) when the lovably uptight protagonist, Sam Baselli (Jake Borelli), who is studying political science in Chicago while hanging out with his dialogue-rich bestie, Stasia aka Anastasia (Britt Baron), is asked to drive his former high school tormentor Harry (Niko Terho) back to a mutual friend’s engagement party in their home town.

Leaving aside the fact that no friend in their right mind would ask someone to drive their bully anywhere, and that no former bullied person would dream of saying “Yes” – that Sam does is proof the writers, Peter Paige and Joshua Senter, were either never bullied or have forgotten what it felt like – it does offers our cheekily cute main character, who has a way with words and attitude that most of us can only dream of, a chance to bury the demons of the past.

As it also gives Harry, who is a player on both sides of the gender fence and unwilling to commit to anyone thank you, a chance to apologise for his ill-thought out high school cruelty and for the two guys to bond in such a way that the years that follow provide plenty of When Harry Met Sally-lite moments for them to reconnect and rekindle the U.R.S.T. that is most definitely there.

It’s not the stuff of edgy, indie theatre no, but it works enough to give this light as air romantic fiesta of gay love a little more depth than might otherwise be the case, and give audience members longing for such a resolution the kind of happy-ever-after they have likely never got in real life.

It may seem inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, but if you were bullied at school for your sexuality, as this reviewer was, this seemingly insubstantial moment carries a great deal of emotional weight.

Far more than you might expect from a broadcast TV movie which aims to please as many people as it can as much of the time as it can.

It’s this wish fulfillment fantasy that grounds The Thing About Harry sufficiently well for it to feel like it all might mean something.

The film is helped too by winningly enthusiastic performances, witty word play that dances and sings far more than you might suggest and a sitcom sensibility that treads just enough solid ground to feel thoughtful but not so much that it loses it broad accessibility.

Above all, it feels winningly, happily, satisfyingly romantic, which is in season any time of the year, but especially after a year of pandemic hell where life’s simple but vitally important pleasures such as falling in love, feel like they are million years away from being possible.

The Thing About Harry won’t set the cinematic world alight nor be held up as the epitome of the perfect rom-com, but for all lightness, it is heartfelt, well-written, bright, light and happy and possessed of a sense, a rich, necessary sense for many gay men who never these types of love stories growing up, of love being possible between two men who didn’t get it right first time around (thanks to some very poor and cruel decisions by one of them) but now have a rare second chance to find everlasting happiness in a way neither likely ever imagined could ever happen (and clothes, it must be said, to die for).

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