"Mrs. Harris" (2005)
Directed By: Phyllis Nagy
Starring: Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, Frances Fisher, Cloris Leachman, & Ellen Burstyn
MPAA Rating: Not Applicable
There are good movies
and there are bad movies. There are average movies and there are amazing movies. Movies come in all different states of quality. But, "Mrs. Harris" is one of the very few movies that just don't fall into any category perfectly. The performances are flawless, the movie is well-made, and the initial storyline is intriguing. On the other hand, the movie is just uninteresting, disjointed, and pretentious. The promise of the plot is ruined due to tacky flashback sequences that don't appear to be in any particular order, many of which don't lead to anything of importance. "Mrs. Harris" desires to be a hard-hitting mystery that seeks to explain a real-life event, but it simply isn't. It doesn't do nearly enough to grab its audience, making for a rather dull watch. Do not get me wrong! "Mrs. Harris" is a well-made film and Annette Bening gives a spectacular performance. It has every ingredient to make a perfect film, except for one
the most important one. That ingredient is emotion. I kept waiting to feel something for the characterssomething that would make me give a darn about them, but nothing ever presented itself. In fact, it seemed as though the movie wanted to do the complete opposite of what it wanted to do. It made both of our main characters into two dull, unlikable, and rather clichéd people. We are supposed to feel for these people? I do not think so.
Jean Harris (Bening) had dated the famous inventor of the Scarsdale Diet, Dr. Herman Tarnower (Kinglsey) for fourteen years before she shot him to death in his home. Harris, a divorced schoolteacher, had been swept off of her feet by Tarnower's irresistible charms
but, unfortunately, she was not the only one. Tarnower was famous for being a complete womanizer who moved from one woman to the next without so much as a heartfelt "I Love You". But, Jean thought she was different. After all, Tarnower had proposed to her with a ring worth more than $10,000. Later, Tarnower reclaimed his proposal, completely destroying Jean. Harris is, according to reports, a depressed, obsessive, and mentally-unstable woman who was suicidal and almost completely unhinged. After the death of Tarnower, Jean testified that she had only come to say goodbye and was planning on committing suicide. But, Tarnower attempted to wrestle the gun from her grasp and was accidentally shot in the process. Based on the 1980's media spectacle, "Mrs. Harris" tells this intriguing story of murder, obsession, and infidelity
though it is not nearly as interesting as it should have been.
The performances in "Mrs. Harris" are easily the highlight. Annette Bening gave everything she had and gave a phenomenal performance. I found her to be completely convincing. Unfortunately, the script did not give her part enough interest. Ben Kinglsey needed to give a darn good performance to make up for both "Bloodrayne" and "A Sound of Thunder". He did a great job
but not good enough to rectify both of those debacles. Why Ben? Why would you follow up two travesties with a mediocre film? Will you ever be in a good movie again? Cloris Leachman is always a delight. Here, she takes on a very serious role and handles herself very eloquently
though, I could not get the thought of her in "Scary Movie 4" out of my head. Frances Fisher gives an elegant, subdued performance. She did a nice job. Ellen Burstyn's role in this movie is now probably most remembered for being fourteen seconds in length and yet able to get her an Emmy nomination. Her performance, in my opinion, was good enough to warrant a nomination. She clearly believes in quality over quantity, because, in fourteen seconds, she gives a performance better than many people could give in an hour and a half.
When "Mrs. Harris" was over, I just could not grasp what I had seen. Every aspect of "Mrs. Harris", individually, is almost completely perfect. But, when everything was put together, these perfect pieces formed such a dull picture. I just didn't find myself interesting in the movie at all. I could not have cared less whether or not the characters lived, died, went to jail, went free, or ate each other in a bloody rage. There was no realism in the characters. I couldn't relate to any of them. The biggest problem, however, is the way in which the movie is edited. It begins with one scenario of the death of Tarnower (the one Jean Harris says occurred), then flashes back and forth between the court case of Harris and her past life with Tarnower. However, the flashback sequences all seem so disjointed. They are, at times, showing an argument between Tarnower and Harris and, at other times, showing them in love (or comfort, in the eyes of Tarnower). I simply got sick of having to regroup every fifteen minutes of the movie to decipher what page the movie was on and how this unlikable couple was getting along. You could watch "Mrs. Harris" simply for the performances and not feel cheated. So, after much deliberation, I have decided to recommend the movie. But remember: view it for the purpose of seeing great performances in action, not a great movie.
Final Thought: "Mrs. Harris" isn't a great movie, but its performances make up for many of its shortcomings.
Overall Rating: 5/10 (B-)
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