Monday, July 12, 2010

Regarding Henry

We are sticking with J. J. Abrams as screenwriter today with Regarding Henry. The movie is typical of the habit I the early ’90’s of presenting a complex issue as a sweet, but implausible fairy tale. It is in the vein of Pretty Woman, where a handsome, wealthy businessman falls in love with a hooker and we root for it to happen. What Pretty Woman is to true romance, Regarding Henry is to finding redemption after being an awful person one’s entire life.

Harrison Ford stars as Henry Turner, an nasty, unethical, and greedy lawyer who treats everyone like garbage in his quest to get ahead. While going out for cigarettes one night--see how evil he is? He smokes, too!-- he stumbles unto a convenience store robbery. He is shot twice; once in the head and once in the chest. He suffers brain damage from both the head wound and lack of oxygen to the brain because his lung is pierced by the bullet. There is the double whammy to explain why he both loses his memory, inhibitions, and a great deal of his intelligence.

Henry goes from a completely speechless, paralyzed invalid to a something akin to a sweet child during the second act. The journey is a blatant tug at the heartstrings . It is difficult to get into because Henry was such a jerk before, he is not really sympathetic. I feel bad for his wife and daughter, which is dangerous thing for the audience to do considering subsequent story twists.

Basically, the attempt to tug at the heartstrings is so manipulative, I resented the manipulation.

After his rehab, Henry goes home. He now views everything with the wide-eyed wonder of a child. Well, he basically is one now. Henry becomes such an agreeable, saccharine character, I was turn between wondering how long before his wife was oigto dump him for a normal man while a big, flashing sign fell from the ceiling saying, “Pity Henry! Pity Hery now!”

Obviously, his firm hands him frivolous office boy work and his friends mock him for his new mental state. Worse yet, it is revealed his wife was having an affair before his accident, which turns out to be okay because he was, too. They reconcile. He even reveals to the opposing party in his last legal case how he was screwing them over. Total fairy tale ending.

I am blowing it all here because if you did not see the sitcom level twists and turns coming a mile away, my revealing them will not spoil your enjoyment should you ever decide to see Regarding Henry.

The only highlight is Harrison Ford. He takes a big risk. He is not only essentially playing two characters, the latter is an overgrown child. Not I a frat boy sort of way, which can go over the top for laughs, but he fall into offensive stereotype. In the real world, Henry could be institutionalized without much argument.

It is a stretch to assume his wife, the kind of woman who was carrying on an affair anyway, would stick by him. Just to emphasize the point, she sends their daughter off to an elite prep school against his wishes just to get her out of the way. The wife was played by Annette Benning, who was touted by critics as a bright newcomer. But she completely changes her tune by the end no matter her circumstances, past or future. They had to be talking about future potential. She is not a real person here.

I did not really like Regarding Henry. This sort of story has been done far better. Blame it on the material and execution. Ford and Benning did not have much with which to work. Regarding Henry consists of maudlin Lifetime movie of the week quality material that somehow made it to the big screen. I am disappointed with it.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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