Hoo boy, is Harold a mess of a movie. Someone cashed in a ton of valuable Hollywood favors to assemble this valiant but ultimately awful attempt at humor, and should now be ashamed to have been involved in any way.
The extremely dated running joke here is that Harold is a 13 year old boy who acts like an old man. The only stated, visible abnormality about Harold is that he is bald, but he also exhibits other stereotypes of the elderly for no apparent other reason than to match his persona to his hairline. He frequently self-deprecates to his fellow students about having bunions and gets exactly the kind of response one would expect kids to offer that kind of humor: literally nothing at all. No laughter, no smiling, hardly ever any acknowledgement that Harold made a joke each and every time he makes it. It’s a strange directorial decision, but the adherence to reality there is spot on.
Expect to be genuinely impressed by how bad the acting is in this movie. Spenser Breslin executes Harold with the kind of skill one would expect from a High School drama drop-out. He half-pipes the uncanny valley between young and old, never convincing that he is either, and the writing is only partly to blame for that. Breslin completely lacks charisma, making Harold endearing only for his defining perseverance. But what really boggles the mind is how many friggin’ amazing, credible actors in this movie ALSO seem to be unable to act here.
First, we have a dry cameo by Fred Willard. Then there’s Rachel Drach, as “meh” as ever. She displays the best acting performance in the entire movie BY FAR, though this may owe to her lack of screen time. Another SNL alumn, Chris Parnell, plays the jerk coach meant to exemplify how mean everyone is to Harold. This is the perfect role for Parnell and he should’ve been an easy highlight, but his lines are so terrible that you can almost see on his face his shame in delivering them. His gesturing and delivery are notably flat; this does not make any sense at all as Parnell is a proven, hilarious actor. There are cameos by two comedy legends, Dave Attell and Colin Quinn, each delivering 1 each of the but 2 funny jokes in the entire movie, one being cheap. I genuinely laughed out loud when Harold laments to Quinn about his school life and Quinn responds, “Can’t be that bad; you’re 13, you’re in a titty bar.”
But the only other important character in the entire movie besides Harold is Cuba Gooding Jr.’s helpful mentor character, who offers wisdom in the typical coincidentally timely fashion. If Harold is at school and meets a challenge, rest assured Cuba will pop in with a witty metaphor to lighten crushing reality. Here though, we finally get lines written beyond Fox News-narrative levels, many of which are fairly clever, yet once again delivered as though Gooding had never acted before. Now, say what you will of his ability, but he can certainly do better than this. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to like janitor Jr.
I’ve said little of the plot because there is little to say of it; you correctly assembled it in your head when you learned the premise. There are no surprises here: Harold is a young boy with a visual defect, thus he is ridiculed; this is a (bad) movie, so Harold perseveres through contrived devices and witty retorts (of which there are almost none, nor are there any clever ploys or hilarious pranks to lead one to believe that Harold will ever do anything in life but lie down and eat kicks).
What really leaves me sore about both Harold the movie and Harold the character is how poorly they understand youth culture. The screenwriters seem entirely out of touch with what kids experience or enjoy. The obvious glaring example would be Harold himself, embodying a dated, cringe-worthy joke that few should appreciate regardless of age. Harold the character holds a mess of qualities that just do not make sense and do not coalesce into a better whole. My favorite example of the movie failing to understand modern culture (or that of 2008), though, is the go-karts. Go-karting is so popular at Harold’s school that many kids ride them around campus; the faculty seemingly could care less about what must be skyrocketing landscaping expenses. Harold pressures his mother to get him a go-kart for his birthday believing it will improve his status. But, JOKE’S ON HIM, she gets him a Rascal scooter! AH HA HA HA BECAUSE HE’S OLD GET IT?
In conclusion, of all things, I found myself quite liking the bully character in Harold. He never physically assaulted anyone nor attacked with much more than childish insults. The bully perfectly represents the degree of my animosity for this movie. I don’t want to hurt it, but my nature demands I ridicule it for all to see because it’s just such a goddamned loser.
Harold: 9 out of 10 stars.