Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?

on June 15, 2001 by Susan Green
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   The delightfully expressive face of Tom Courtenay is the best thing about an endearing magic-realism romp that's somewhat misleadingly titled "Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?." Set in an era when disco would soon be overtaken by punk, the comedy centers on Vince, an 18-year-old lad who fancies himself the British reincarnation of Tony Manero in "Saturday Night Fever." The teenager's retiree dad, Harold (Courtenay), is content to watch the telly and ignore the fact that his wife (Lulu of "To Sir, With Love" fame) regularly sneaks out of their Sheffield house to rendezvous with other men.

   The painfully shy Vince is smitten with Joanna (Laura Fraser), a fellow clerk at the law firm where they both work for a slick boss played by David Thewlis. Her father (Stephen Fry) is a university physics professor who becomes completely engrossed in an investigation of paranormal goings-on in the Smith household: While entertaining senior citizens, Harold has unwittingly stopped a few pacemakers during a magic trick intended to freeze their wristwatches. Turns out the affable bloke has always had a gift for mind over matter, a talent kept under wraps because he's so meek and unassuming. In fact, Harold's powers are sensational, but it all goes awry when the press gets wind of the doddering octogenarians he's accidentally killed.

   Working from a clever script by Ben Steiner, director Peter Hewitt captures the crazy late 1970s as a chaotic time full of promise and peril. Abandoning the Bee Gees in favor of the Buzzcocks, Vince dances to the beat of the punk movement's call for anarchy without quite understanding what it means. His heart really resides with the kindness and abracadabra that make Harold a gentle man of miracles.    Starring Tom Courtenay, Michael Legge, Laura Fraser, Stephen Fry, David Thewlis, Lulu, Charlotte Roberts and Amanda Root. Directed by Peter Hewitt. Written by Ben Steiner. Produced by Ruth Jackson and David Brown. A USA release. Comedy. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 96 min.

Tags: Michael Legge, Laura Fraser, Stephen Fry, David Thewlis, Lulu, David Brown, USA, Comedy, Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Roberts, Amanda Root, Peter Hewitt, Ben Steiner, Ruth Jackson
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