Wild About Harry (2001)

D: Declan Lowney
S: Brendan Gleeson, Amanda Donohoe

Mildly funny and dramatically obvious comedy from the pen of Colin Bateman (Divorcing Jack, Cycle of Violence), pleasant enough, well acted, and generally entertaining, but not especially inspiring. Popular TV Chef Harry McGee (Brendan Gleeson) is at the end of his marriage and in the midst of a divorce when he is attacked by restless youths and loses his memory. After a breakdown on screen in which he disgraces a local politician (James Nesbitt), he awakes in hospital convinced that he is eighteen years old and still dating his wife Ruth (Amanda Donohoe). Is this a second chance for them both? Likable and optimistic, Harry is now open to suggestion, and is convinced by Ruth that he is a clean living good guy instead of the boorish, drunken swine he really is. But as evidence mounts, not least of all the hostility of his son, Harry begins to explore his relationships from the outside and sees himself more clearly than ever. Can he win back his wife? Will the disgraced politician get revenge? Is this an allegory for the peace process in Northern Ireland?

Stop the lights. What was that last one? Well, Wild About Harry is probably best understood relative to the politics of Northern Ireland, because as an emotional and psychological drama, it falls somewhere between a sitcom and a TV movie. If read as a film which reflects socially and politically concurrent attempts to reconcile quarrelling factions, it becomes a bit more interesting, if no less obvious. It is not particularly difficult to find oneself pushed in the direction of reading it as allegory, not least of all given the representation of the city of Belfast in its post-sectarian phase, with City Hall a brightly-lit blue-tinged Eurocity icon bereft of its 'Ulster Says No' banner. In fact, this is the least political of the Colin Bateman films to date, and the one which offers the least amount of challenges to either the viewer or the country in which it is set.

The dramatic core of the film is the question of what constitutes a second chance. The ethical dilemma Ruth faces is that in moulding her husband to her ideal, she is not facing up to the reality of her past experience. Her skeptical solicitor (Bronagh Gallagher) keeps reminding her that she has Harry on the ropes, and that her suffering at his unfaithful, drunken hands was not conducive to a happy future regardless of his apparent change of attitude. Meanwhile Harry is faced with the dilemma of knowing that he has been given this chance to win her back on borrowed time. It is only a matter of technicalities that keeps him in their house, and there really is no reason why his past should be forgotten. Again, it does not take much thinking before one finds oneself seeing how this applies to the turbulent politics of the island of Ireland. Though Bateman may not have been trying to make it this into a political statement, it does eventually read like a kind of metaphorical contribution to the debate, somewhat like A Love Divided.

None of this makes the film any better. It just makes it easier to talk about in context. As a comedy, Wild About Harry has one or two funny scenes, one or two good one liners, and a couple of amusing characters. It lacks the verve and sparkle of the other Bateman adaptations, and certainly has none of the ferocity of Divorcing Jack. It is a deliberately mild-mannered movie in which the few moments of outrageous farce stand out all too glaringly from the rest. It is held aloft by well-meaning performances from all concerned. Gleeson handles both the early and later scenes with a winning balance of believable humanity, never condescending to pathos in spite of the opportunities. Donohoe comes across as strong and smart in a way which carries the role past the unlikely contrivance, and this pays off particularly well at the film's resolution. Supporting turns from Adrian Dunbar and Bronagh Gallagher are able enough, as is a turn from George Wendt as Harry's long-suffering producer. Nesbitt doesn't have his finest hour here, but he does get to portray a series of scenes of mounting comic-hysterical madness which pay off with a cross-dressing incident which provides the film with its climax.

Again with something of the timbre of a sitcom or TV movie, the whole thing is professionally done and fills the time easily enough. Wild About Harry is not likely to generate much genuine admiration though, other than a mild round of applause for a job capably done. Bateman has done better, and he probably knows it. At least he keeps working, which of course means that he can always do better again.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.