Harmony and Me
2009, NR, 72 min. Directed by Bob Byington. Starring Justin Rice, Kevin Corrigan, Pat Healy, Kristen Tucker, Alex Karpovsky, Chris Doubek, Margie Beegle, Allison Latta, Bill Wise.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 8, 2010
Harmony (Rice) a is tuneful guy, but he’s not blending well. He’s stuck on his old girlfriend Jessica (Tucker, who is also one of the film’s producers), and he unloads his heartbreak on anyone who will listen. He recites his breakup woes with liturgical precision, although every time we hear him repeat the same phrases to a new listener, they are delivered with a little less confidence, a little less certainty in the words’ ritualistic powers. Set in Austin, writer/director Byington’s fourth indie film follows Harmony as he ambles about from his vaguely sketched tech job to visits with friends and family members, piano lessons (taught by Jerm Pollet), and attendance at a wedding and a funeral. And should these things not provide grist for enough narrative action, Harmony even slips into a coma for a bit. I know this description makes Harmony and Me sound deceptively as though it were this week’s entry in the insufferably talky, low-budget, hipster-heartbreak film derby. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Harmony and Me is funny. The dialogue and performances are sharp and amusing; the shambling pace provides an arena for observational backbeats and conversational fillips (as when a friend describes Harmony, long before his comatose episode, as suffering from “an acute form of stasis”). Appropriately, Rice (who also starred in Andrew Bujalski’s pillar of mumblecore, Mutual Appreciation, and is the frontman for the band Bishop Allen) has a shaggy-dog presence. Occasionally, you may want to rap Harmony on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper but it’s really for his own good. A few other crew members, including Byington, pull double duty in onscreen roles as well as off-, and musician Bob Schneider has a notable cameo as a wedding singer who hits on the bride. Although Austinites may recognize some familiar locales in the film, it will be due to happenstance rather than any sense of the filmmaker calling attention to various spots. In fact, the film appears as though it could have been shot in any urban American center. While the film’s cinematography (by Jim Eastburn) is undistinguished, I suspect that’s part of the intent, helping to create an aura of Anytown, USA, a place where words can carry as much weight as emotions. Harmony and Me, although titled after an Elton John song, has more in common musically with its signature song, “Government Center” by Jonathan Richman, a song that builds from a workaday premise to a rollicking good time. The film’s charms are, ultimately, tough to describe, so I’ll paraphrase the words Harmony uses to describe his lost girlfriend: “It has a certain ineffable quality that I think is rare.” (For more, see the Chronicle’s interview with Byington, "Things Are What You Make of Them," Oct. 23, 2009, which ran when Harmony and Me premiered locally at the Austin Film Festival.) Opens Sunday. Byington will be present at all screenings.