Harmony and Me
Dir. Bob Byington
Harmony and Me, the masterfully funny second film from Austinite director Bob Byington, follows 30-year-old amateur musician and office slacker Harmony (Justin Rice) through post-breakup struggles. If this seems like overly familiar comedic territory, it probably is. But look to the wordplay of the film’s tagline: billed as “a physical comedy about yearning,” the joke here is slippage, of concepts and not on banana peels.
It’s a good indication of the kind of brainy humor (don’t worry, there are jizz jokes, too) to come (see?), and as a stand-in for Harmony’s displaced desire, the tagline’s confusion of the physical couldn’t be more apt. He might be yearning for his ex Jessica’s (Kristen Tucker) body, but the couple’s “chemistry” is so corrosive, she might as well be battery acid. Still, wearing his heartache as showily as the oversized locket with her picture inside that he wears around his neck, Harmony seizes every opportunity to tell (and then tell again) friends, family, coworkers, and everyone else that she’s “still breaking his heart” and “hasn’t finished the job” yet.
But nobody’s really listening to Harmony’s broken record anyway. One of his brothers thinks he’s a loser, the other (played by director Byington) thinks he’s a mooch. His friend Mike’s (Alex Karpovsky) idea of comfort is verbally abusing his long-suffering wife (Baseera Khan) in front of Harmony before launching into a hilariously compelling rant about how the question “Have you seen my red running shoes?” demonstrates everything that’s wrong with the institution of marriage. The best another friend can come up with is to debate Jessica’s place on the 1-10 hotness scale — he says 8, Harmony says higher. And Harmony’s goober of a boss goes out on a date with Jessica without even realizing she was the girl Harmony had been bringing to company parties.
Visually, Harmony and Me is dressed down in mumblecore duds — seemingly improvised lines captured with a camera you could probably afford. But while both Rice and Byington have acted in films by the likes of Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg, Byington’s been understandably careful to distance his film from the “movement.” Harmony’s dialogue may be delivered as if improvised, but the jokes are just too funny for me to believe they were thought up on the spot, and the characters who deliver them too absurdly dickish for mumblecore’s realist lens.
As simply a collection of jokes, Harmony and Me’s funny and original enough to be one of the best films of the year. But incredibly, at a mere hour’s length, it manages to cram a compelling plot, catchy songs, and even a subtly delivered questioning of romantic relationships between its jizz and pedophilia nyuck nyucks. Despite its overwhelming negativity, the cumulative effect is uplifting. No Autumn comes along to replace Harmony’s Summer — in fact, we leave him worse off than before, training for his new job in one of the world’s most-loathed professions. But he does end up writing a goofy gem of a song. Maybe he learned, as Byington seems to understand, that the difference between a broken record and a great song is only craft.