Regarding Henry is a sappy three-hankie weeper masquerading as an updated and hip story about a yuppie struggling to find his inner child. That's not much of a choice for any movie to offer. Released in 1991 as a heartwarming, Hollywood tearjerker, writer Jeffrey Abrams and director Mike Nichols seem to have consciously removed the basic passions from that classic genre by recycling a load of sentimental plots, piling on the mushy scenes, and handing out a conventional TV-movie-of-the-week.
Henry (Harrison Ford) is a typical bad father and no-good husband. An overworked, big-shot lawyer idolized by his co-workers (he's the money guy), he's hated by his wife (Annette Bening) and teenage daughter (Mikki Allen). Why? Well, as far as I can tell, when his daughter spills orange juice he's real strict in punishing her, he never holds his wife's hand in public, and he won't buy his daughter a puppy. The movie doesn't much show or explain this side of Henry's personality, so I guess it's a given that he's an all-around, self-obsessed, insensitive jerk. As these plots go, Henry needs to get his priorities straight; he's due for a knockdown, a comeuppance.
How that happens is the way tearjerkers and melodramas involve us -- show us the twists and turns of that challenging new road these people have to go down and we'll go along eagerly. But Regarding Henry skips all that. Henry gets wounded in a convenience store hold-up, loses his memory, and has to start his life over -- walk, talk, relate to his family, lawyering, everything. He's a child again. It's a story device that allows Henry to change his old self without ever having to confront what he once was, and even a director as inventive as Mike Nichols can't pull this off. By the time Henry is in rehabilitation and participating in an array of cutesy shenanigans with his physical therapist (Bill Nunn), we're so distanced from the main character that only the lame predictability of the plot is left over. Henry buys his daughter a puppy. Then he holds his wife's hand as they walk through the park. He becomes a kinder, gentler lawyer. It all comes out of nowhere and you instinctively rebel against the manipulation.
I kept looking for some old, gritty, Bette Davis anxiety or a sense of honest self-evaluation in this movie. Or maybe some believable dealings with money or a funny take on disability insurance, or an iota of passion -- something, anything, that cuts through the sanctimony and allows you into the feelings of these characters. Jeffrey Abrams was 24 when he wrote Regarding Henry and went on to Felicity, the teenage television series. And that's what Regarding Henry is: television for adolescents. It may be camouflaged and dressed to the nines by the expensive adults Nichols, Harrison, and Bening, but it's still a shameless, juvenile melodrama.
Giuseppe Rotunno's cinematography (known for his work with Fellini) is the only standout in the DVD version of Regarding Henry. Take particular note of the rehabilitation scenes, where hospital whites and the glare of fluorescent lights convey more emotion and say more than the script. Also an advantage is the available widescreen format. Otherwise, the DVD is without extras, so there's little to recommend.