“The Thing About Harry” is a noble effort. But as noble as it is, it is also a really bad movie.
Let’s start at the beginning, though, because the beginning is quite solid. The first act of the film is a whirlwind of trope-y goodness that promises so much more than what is actually delivered. Out of clichéd necessity, Sam (Jake Borelli) goes on a road trip with his high school bully, the titular Harry (Niko Terho). Through this forced reconnection comes a surprising and intimate relationship, as it’s revealed that Harry now openly identifies as pansexual and used to the bully openly gay Sam so that their high school peers wouldn’t think Harry was queer.
It’s a solid romantic comedy setup. The “I’m falling for my former bully” cliché impressively doesn’t fall flat — Harry is given enough redemption so that he never seems inauthentic in the presentation of his feelings. Borelli and Terho also have great on-screen chemistry that lends itself well to telling glances and lip-biting.
This is just about everything that “The Thing About Harry” pulls off. Its failures begin with the center of its narrative: woeful, world-weary, narcissistic and emotionally manipulative protagonist Sam.
How ironic that Harry, the former schoolyard bully, is treated with more sympathy and built up to be a kinder character than Sam, the former victim. Had Harry ever actually been presented as this bully, it might be easier to understand why Sam seems to deeply mistrust and maybe even still resent Harry.
But that’s not what happens. Sam and Harry become best friends, yet Sam is still a vindictive human being. He tells a clearly pining Harry that their getting together is impossible, and when a now-hurt Harry rebounds, Sam goes absolutely ballistic. At one point, he verbally skewers Harry and his best friend Stasia (Britt Baron), and later they take him back after the most bare-bones apology possible. When Sam and Harry get together and Sam breaks things off for a reason that doesn’t even make sense, it’s Harry who chases after Sam and convinces him to try again.
The emotional logic in “The Thing About Harry” is just wildly incoherent, even by romantic comedy standards. What’s the trade-off for earth-shattering chemistry between the two leading actors? All semblance of reason, apparently. Surely a protagonist needn’t be likable for a film to be good, but when the film is a romantic comedy, it’s fair to expect that the characters at least be somewhat good for each other in the long run. But based on the film’s presentation of its central couple, it’s easy for the audience to assume that five years from now we’ll find Sam and Harry in couple’s therapy trying to save their failing marriage and realizing they, like Sam himself once said, were never meant to be together.
In addition, because every film about queer men must feature an emotional support female (and usually straight) best friend, Stasia plays a prominent role in the film. She’s also the only woman with a real role in the film, and her own storyline is boringly predictable. She even starts out with purple hair and ends the film with brown hair. How symbolic!
In terms of structure, this film bites off way more than it can chew, spanning several years. A great beginning soon turns into a lackluster and cringeworthy attempt at dramedy. How can so much go so wrong so quickly?
Not all queer representation is a step forward. While “The Thing About Harry” isn’t necessarily a step backward, there is an uncomfortable moment in which Harry says he used to identify as bisexual, but then found out that pansexual is a more “inclusive” label. It’s unnecessary, and also rather ignorant.
If we’re slowly but surely building a canon of queer cinema, there have to be some failed attempts along the way. What’s “The Thing About Harry”? If you’re interested in finding out the answer, don’t expect much.