Review: ‘Harmony and Me’

A sad sack (Justin Rice), masochistically fixated on the woman who dumped him receives cold comfort from the assorted loonies he calls friends, family and co-workers in Bob Byington's Austin-set sophomore outing.

A sad sack (Justin Rice), masochistically fixated on the woman who dumped him receives cold comfort from the assorted loonies he calls friends, family and co-workers in Bob Byington’s Austin-set sophomore outing. A mumblecore film without the mumble, “Harmony and Me” eschews the fits and starts, tensions and complexities of present-tense immediacy in favor of sly, absurdist one-liners, paring everything down to comic essentials. Bristling with wry wit and peopled with a rogue’s gallery of disaffected losers, this rhythmically timed (if indifferently shot) micro-budgeter could garner niche play based on its unexpected narrative intersections with current mainstream comedy.

When Jessica (Kristen Tucker, who also produced) breaks up with Harmony (Rice), she already has a head start on grieving, unlike her hapless ex, who never saw it coming.

In a plotline that has some points of contact with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” months later, sulky Harmony still wears his heart on his sleeve — and around his neck, in the form of a locket containing Jessica’s picture. He flashes this at passers-by accompanied by a clumsy bear-with-a-fish metaphor (illustrating how Jessica thoughtlessly abused his heart) that grows more lamely pathetic with each retelling.

Harmony’s mother offers cryptically sarcastic advice (“find one who moves her arms and legs”), his younger brother snickers unhelpfully, his pals claim to have never known what he saw in her, and an office mate dates her.

Unfortunately, helmer Byington (who also plays Harmony’s older brother) remains so locked into the main character that Harmony’s egocentrism, which cuts him off from fellow humans, also limits the creative input of reliable indie regulars like Pat Healy, Kevin Corrigan and Alex Karpovsky, whose riffs are circumscribed by the careful orchestration of gags. The women in particular suffer from narrow-casting and missed opportunities: Boob-obsessed neighbor Allison Latta seems positively bursting with untapped potential.

Yet the deadpan humor flows so pleasingly along, unencumbered by the verbal meanderings characteristic of mumblecore, that it surmounts the self-absorption and self-pity to approach a form of music. Indeed, the pic could be subtitled “Make Music, Not Love.” (Rice, in real life a frontman for his own band, here amateurishly dabbles in his namesake harmonies, taking piano lessons from fellow musician Jerm Pollet, with Corrigan sitting in on guitar.)

Rice, mumblecore’s answer to Jean-Pierre Leaud (but without the edge), steers the pic successfully through shallow shoals of snarky humor, greatly aided by Frank Ross’ to-the-bone editing but done no favors by lenser Jim Eastburn’s total disregard for compositional niceties.

Harmony and Me


A Forlorn Penguin production. (International sales: Submarine Entertainment, New York.) Produced by Kristen Tucker. Executive producers, Anish Savjani, Stuart Bohart. Directed, written by Bob Byington.


Camera (color, HD), Jim Eastburn; editor, Frank Ross; music supervisor, Dominique Preyer; production designer, Yvonne Boudreaux; costume designer, Kim Ngo; sound, Keith Poulson; sound designer, Chris Keyland. Reviewed at Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 20, 2009. (In New Directors/New Films, New York.) Running time: 72 MIN.


Justin Rice, Kevin Corrigan, Pat Healy, Alex Karpovsky, Kristen Tucker, Bob Byington, Jerm Pollet, Allison Latta, Margie Beegle, Keith Poulson, Bob Schneider.
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