I frequently am amazed at the amount of unknown movies I see in video stores. I'm a big movie buff, too (this is my 96th review on this site in 4 years). At a Blockbuster, for instance, I can be guaranteed that in the New Release section, 60% of the movies are direct to video, and most of them are probably crap. That is especially true for comedies, particularly the blatant ripoffs of "Van Wilder" or other frat house flicks.
"Harold" fell into that category. I picked it up, though, because it had a bunch of famous people in it. It had Ally Sheedy, the adorable Nikki Blonsky (after "Hairspray"), a number of SNL alum (Rachel Dratch, Chris Parnell, and longtime writer James Downey), and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Now honestly, considering Gooding has starred in some bad, bad comedies since winning his Oscar ("Boat Trip", "Daddy Day Camp"), his role alone didn't give me high hopes for this movie.
Fortunately, the movie was better than I thought it would be. Granted it has a predictable plot line, and has actors who are high school age or older playing junior high kids. Still, there were parts of this movie that were refreshingly funny, and Gooding was probably the best thing about this film.
The film centers around Harold (Spencer Breslin), a 13 year old who is prematurely bald simply because male pattern baldness runs in his family. Because his hairline has completely receded, and what little hair he has is thinning on top, he looks far older than he actually is. Somehow he also acts like an old man for reasons the movie doesn't bother to explain. Harold is comfortable in his own skin at first, and likes his life in his small hometown.
His single mother (Sheedy) then gets a job promotion which requires him and his superficial sister Shelly (Stella Maeve, who is actually quite good in her role) to move to a more urbanized community. While Shelly fits right in at her new high school, Harold gets bullied by other boys and victimized by his gym teacher at his new junior high. Being prematurely bald doesn't help matters.
In typical junior high movie fashion, Harold develops a crush on a Lindsay Lohan lookalike Evelyn (Elizabeth Gillies), falls in with a group of misfits which includes Blonsky, and the misfit girl (Blonsky) develops a crush on Harold that he naturally takes no notice of. This subplot of the film is definitely cliché, but fortunately, thanks to the clever writing of former SNL writer T. Sean Shannon, it avoids banal plot points that other junior high angst films fail to do. For one, the Evelyn girl isn't mean to Harold, or in general. Plus, Harold's crush on her is realistically misguided.
Unfortunately, the rest of the storyline lacks originality. As soon as you hear about the drag race that coming Sunday, you know there will be a climactic showdown. The second Harold goes to gym class, you know the gym teacher is going to be mean to him. And so on. In fact, this film bears a striking resemblance to another direct-to-video movie about a junior high misfit: "Lloyd" (2001). I could cry plagiarism on this one, but "Lloyd" was even more cliché and didn't even reach the level of clever writing this film did.
Amazingly, Cuba Gooding, Jr. contributes greatly in saving this film from being as predictable and forgettable. Gooding plays Cromer, the school custodian who Harold befriends and later counts on when he is in bad situations. Gooding has some laugh-out-loud hilarious lines, and he is truly genuine in every scene he's in.
Perhaps the most confusing character in this film is Harold himself. Breslin plays him as someone who not only looks and acts old, but who (I guess) wants to be old, judging from his reading the newspaper and religiously watching "Murder, She Wrote". It didn't say why, though, or how he was ever comfortable with having patchy hair. I currently have all of my hair, but I still think that if I ever lose it up top, the rest of the hair is going. It would have been cool if Harold had decided to actually shave his whole head and make that his style, but it doesn't occur to him to do that. Just as Blonsky let her hair down in "Hairspray", I really wanted Breslin to shave his whole head and really give the hackneyed climax scene the boost it needed. Ah, missed opportunity.
Speaking of Blonsky, I also wish her character was more developed. Blonsky was adorable and fun in the "Hairspray" musical, and she's equally as magnetic in this movie. However, it was clear that her character was written so passively as to be a hackneyed teen movie character. Her character should have had some more clever lines, instead of just being the non-glamorous girl with a crush on the hero. Blonsky deserves better because she's a great actress. Hopefully she'll be in other good movies soon.
Although Maeve was actually funny as Breslin's sister, Ally Sheedy wasn't given a lot to do here, either. She's just matter-of-factly a single mom here. There's a funny outtake where she's sarcastically ranting (in character, I assume) about how great she had it in junior high, a tongue-in-cheek reference to her famous misfit role in "The Breakfast Club". It would have worked well in the movie not only as a good joke, but also to give the mother a more strongly supportive role.
Overall, though, there were some very funny, laugh out loud moments in this movie, and Cuba Gooding, Jr. was perhaps the best thing in here. So far, though, there hasn't been a really funny movie about junior high that simultaneously touches on how painful those years really are. "Welcome To The Dollhouse" has come the closest so far. Still, I marginally recommend "Harold" because it is funny and enjoyable to watch.
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