Mrs. Harris Movie Review

Mrs. Harris is a made-for-HBO drama that stumbles in its attempt to cover the 15 years of events that led up to the headline-grabbing murder of noted diet doctor Herman Tarnower by his high-society girlfriend and sometime-fiancee Jean Harris in 1980. Like most biopics that range across time, it can't help but feel disjointed and episodic as it races through the story, trying to jam in as much information as it can in under two hours.

Writer/director Phyllis Nagy tries a few framing devices, such as flashing back from Harris's murder trial and showing the night of the murder twice with two different spins (was it premeditated murder or a terrible accident?), to no great effect. But her star, Annette Bening, has fun flaunting the trappings of her high-society strivings and playing the woman dangerously scorned, and Ben Kingsley is wonderfully awful as the impossibly egomaniacal Tarnower, a man who, if you believe this take on events, may have deserved that bullet in his chest. It's a wonder Harris didn't go after his privates with a pair of pruning shears.

It all starts in the '60s, when private school headmistress Harris is introduced to the already wildly successful Tarnower at a fancy Westchester cocktail party. A lonely divorcee with two children, she's looking for love while he, apparently, is looking for another dalliance.

It's unclear why he does it, but Tarnower proposes to Harris, instantly sending her into blissful reveries. Alas, the notorious Tarnower can't truly commit, and he can't keep it in his pants, either. Years tick by, and Harris becomes increasingly shrewish (not without cause) as Tarnower delays the wedding again and again, cheats on her constantly, and fends off her dangerously escalating anger by prescribing her increasing doses of tranquilizers. She becomes sadly aware that she's the laughing stock of the Westchester/Palm Beach crowd that she once believed were her people.

Keeping a watchful eye on the situation is Tarnower's evil sister Pearl (the always delightful Cloris Leachman), who torments Harris whenever she can. Things get even worse when Tarnower not only takes a new young lover named Lynne Tryforos (Chloë Sevigny) but also flaunts her in Harris's face. This is not a good idea, and we already know the story will end in Tarnower's bloody bed. The jury will have to choose between the wronged Jean and the homicidal Jean. Their guilty verdict and 12-year prison sentence tells us which version of events they believe.

Mrs. Harris earns its stars not for the storytelling but for the scenery chewing of Bening and Kingsley. They play the combustible couple with flair and are great fun to watch. What the movie lacks in suspense it makes up for, somewhat, with style.

Cast & Crew

Director : Phyllis Nagy

Producer : Chrisann Verges

Comments

Mrs. Harris Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 2005

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