Republican News · Thursday 09 March 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Telepathic comedy

Whatever Happened to Harold Smith?
Directed by Pete Hewitt

In 1977, Harold Smith, a retired man seemingly destined to sit out the rest of his days in front of the television, does something in front of his family that changes their lives. Harold, played by Tom Courtenay, is not bothered about being ignored by his still-glamorous wife, Irene (Lulu) who prefers the company of younger men to that of her pensioner spouse. He is quite content to sit in his armchair with his pipe and watch the world go by through the miracle of television and the fact that he has telepathic powers is of no consequence to him, outside of performing tricks for his family.

But then his son Ray has to go to Norway for a magic show and gets his father to step in for an old folk's party. This gig, the first time Harold will use his special gift in public, is the changing point for the Smith family. Whilst attempting to stop all of the audience's watches through the power of the mind (a trick he picked up watching Uri Geller on television), he accidentally stops three of the old people's pacemakers, resulting in their deaths and a subsequent media frenzy.

His father's sudden rise to fame doesn't help his other son, Vince, who is trying to win the affections of Joanna, an exotic punk girl.

Vince is primarily a John Travolta-loving disco fan, but changes his musical allegiance to punk rock to get closer to Joanna. He transforms himself completely and with success until his true disco-boogie self wins back its place in his heart, unfortunately in the middle of a punk-rock gig. However, there is a surprising finale to that gig which leaves all the former punk fans reeling.

Meanwhile, Harold Smith decides - after lots of unwanted publicity and police questioning over the deaths of the old folks - that he will deny his amazing gift so that he won't have to go to jail for the murder of the pensioners.

Whatever Happened to Harold Smith? is a warm romantic comedy well worth seeing for the disco/punk gig scene alone, but director Pete Hewitt also deftly portrays the close relationship between Harold and Vince.

Derek Copley

A life on hold

Girl Interrupted
Columbia Tristar Films
Directed by James Mangold

Susanna Kaysen was probably the same as every other American teenager in the 1960s, confused and insecure in the fast-changing society in which she was growing up. Her parents, however, thought it best that she be committed to a mental hospital ``for a break''. Girl Interrupted is based on Kaysen's autobiography of the same title, which tells how her parents sent her to Claymoore Hospital after they convinced themselves that she tried to kill herself by taking an aspirin overdose.

In the institution, Susanna (played by Wynona Ryder) quickly forms a bond with her fellow `inmates'. She falls into the way of life in the hospital, feeling no reason to fight the system that orders the patients to take their pills at a certain time and tells them what they can and cannot do. Angelina Jolie enters the movie as a handcuffed rebel patient who has been caught after yet another escape bid. She is the `top dog' of the hospital's female wing. She obeys no laws and listen to nobody except the voice in her head.

It is a classic case of opposites attracting, as Jolie's character, Lisa, connects with Susanna. Lisa is a `lifer' in Claymoore who wants nothing but freedom. She brings out the wild streak in Susanna that the ``break'' was supposed to get rid of.

Susanna is told by her psychiatrist that she is uncertain of her future but she knows she wants to write. This ambition is dismissed by the authorities as a fantasy.

Wynona Ryder gives a fine performance as a young woman who is battling to stay in touch with her true self and to stay sane in a world that oppresses her creativity. This is a deeply dark and ironic story with a well chosen cast. Angelina Jolie is frighteningly realistic as a mental patient who can snap at any moment. The fact that this is a true story of lost freedom makes it all the more remarkable.


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