By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Harry (Art Carney) is an elderly man who lives alone in a New York apartment, which due to a court order, is destined for demolition. He, along with his beloved cat Tonto move in temporarily with his suburban son. All is not perfect in the household, and Harry senses that he’s becoming a burden. Seeking something to do with himself other than just growing old and eventually dying, Harry plans a plane trip to Chicago to visit his daughter, through a series of errors, Harry finds himself driving cross-country. Along the way, Harry revels in the spirit of the adventure…
Director and screenwriter Paul Mazursky has always had a love for fish out of water stories, and Harry and Tonto might be his most unique. Harry is a ma who has lived his life, and lived it well, but also has been living in a comfortable rut since his wife died. Over the course of the film, Harry embraces the need for chance, by following (sometimes to his detriment) the spirit of the moment.
He blows where the wind takes him, for better and worse, and it awakens him. This is a story which is even more relevant now, in a world where medical science has assured rapid growth to the population of healthy senior citizens. It is never too late to live life.
Actor Art Carney rightly won an Oscar for his performance, which betrays a far deeper past than is ever revealed explicitly. The arc that Harry goes through is fascinating, at first he appears to be a happy man, but in bits and pieces of conversation early on, Harry displays a desperation which seems to be hiding just out of view. This finally reaches an apex when he holds up in his apartment, forcing police to carry him out, in order for his apartment to be demolished. His behavior isn’t very mature, but completly understandable; after all, who would want to be forced out of a place you’ve called home for years, maybe decades?
As Harry meets new people, and gains new experiences on the road, he gradually begins to seem younger, both physically, and emotionally. The transformation is remarkable, and it certainly speaks volumes of Carney’s brilliance as a performer. Those familiar with Carney only through his early Television work would do well to see this.
Like the recent film Nebraska, Harry and Tonto faces the challenge of striking a balance between drama and comedy. The danger of reaching too deeply into sentimental territory is very real. Harry and Tonto does occasionally reach into the saccharine bag, particularly in scenes where Harry speaks with his daughter in Chicago, and son in Los Angeles, and in several “wish fulfillment” scenes. For the most part, these don’t hurt the film’s impact severely, because as soon as wistfulness threatens to derail the film, something happens that throw the scene into sharp relief.
Harry and Tonto is a fine slice-of-life narrative, bolstered by a wonderful performance by veteran actor Art Carney
Take a Drink: when Harry gets himself deeper into trouble
Take a Drink: whenever someone talks about getting old
Drink a Shot: for the Old Yeller moment *whimper*