Harmony And Me

Harmony And Me


Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

Harmony And Me belongs to the genre of American indie cinema that's increasingly known as 'mumblecore'. Typically showcasing the lackluster love lives of Generations X and Y, mumblecore is marked by characters with “an ongoing adrenal rush of low self-esteem” which is how Harmony describes the life of his directionless 40-year old slacker pal who continues to live at home and drive his mom's minivan.

Justin Rice (who previously appeared in 2005's Mutual Appreciation which debuted at EIFF 2006) plays the titular self-involved slacker Harmony whose girlfriend Jessica has split up with him for no other reason than that he seems to be a bit of a loser. With its ironic jet engines fully locked and loaded, Harmony And Me opens with a quotation from Madonna's song Borderline.

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The film follows Harmony in his attempt to come to terms with heartbreak. His mother and younger brother Wesley are unsympathetic and urge him to get over it. His elder brother, described by Harmony as “deficient”, plainly tells him he would rather see his cat live another ten minutes than Harmony live an extra year. Harmony does find a sympathetic ear in his piano teacher, who has also recently split with his partner and they share many scenes of confession and musical instruction. Humiliatingly, Harmony's first brief run-in with Jessica post-break up is in a thrift store. He has been trying on a ludicrously too-small jacket and appears childish. Jessica and her friend laugh and glance pityingly. Throughout much of the film, Harmony sports a large silver pendant containing a photo of Jessica, which he frequently shows to total strangers while reiterating that Jessica is still in the process of breaking his heart.

One of the only scenes in which Harmony appears to experience genuine emotion that is not mediated by the language of cod psychology or ironic distance takes place between him and the wedding band singer at his elder brother's wedding. The wedding is sparsely attended and many of the guests appear bored. The two men play the piano together and bond over heartfelt lyrics (Rice himself is a musician and has contributed to a number of film soundtracks, and performs in both Harmony And Me and Mutual Appreciation). One of the most amusing scenes in the film takes place when Harmony finally succumbs to the dubious charms of his peculiar neighbour Natasha, played (in the best sense) like a drunk Mia Farrow by Allison Latta. She appears walking her dog, wearing a pair of lederhosen, and as form of foreplay she discusses how much she dislikes her large breasts and how they flop into her armpits when she lies down—she then proceeds to ask Harmony if he'd like to see them. The next morning, when she shouts over her balcony at the retreating Harmony “the sex was really lousy!” his deadpan reply is that she should consider herself lucky that he didn't murder her.

Jessica, the elusive ex-girlfriend remains mysterious and somewhat ineffable until much later when she tells Harmony in a painfully honest statement, “I just know I'm not interested in you” which somewhat redeems her otherwise shallow characterisation. The plot takes a curious turn at this point, when Harmony decides to willfully consume a large quantity of chocolate (an earlier scene has elaborately set up the fact that he is allergic.) This event allows him to somehow finally purge Jessica from his system and move on. There's also a rather amusing sub-plot involving his co-worker Brad's sudden death and the tremendously odd funeral. However, the work and romance plots don't mesh that well and the film—though amusing to the end—does suffer from a lack of narrative tension. That said, those who enjoyed Mutual Appreciation and its like will find this a diverting and entertaining film in the spirit of Woody Allen's early nervous romances.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2009
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Existentialist low-budget comedy "about one of life's losers".
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EIFF 2009

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