Review: Mrs. Harris (2006)

I watched the HBO movie Mrs. Harris last night, about the shooting death of Herman Tarnower (creator of the Scarsdale Diet) by his girlfriend Jean Harris. The story isn’t too terribly interesting or enlightening, but the cast assembled is top notch, with Annette Bening (in the title role) and Cloris Leachman (as Tarnower’s sister) putting in terrific performances.

Bouncing back and forth between the trial and the events leading up to the shooting, the film employs a pseudo-documentary style, interviewing friends and family (portrayed by Frances Fisher, Mary McDonnell, Philip Baker Hall, Ellen Burstyn, Brett Butler, and Lee Garlington) about Jean Harris and her dysfunctional relationship with the womanizing doctor. Frank Whaley has an amusing role as the prosecutor and Chloe Sevigny is the other woman.

Mrs. Harris looked great in HD, with the colors and technique perfectly capturing the ’60s-’70s tone. Unfortunately, the film wavers between camp melodrama and serious docudrama, without committing to one or the other. At times, it seemed as if they were going for a humorous, lighter tone (certainly not outright comedy) but then it would pull back to the safe zone of a Lifetime made-for-TV movie.

That’s not to say Mrs. Harris isn’t watchable. The acting makes it well worthwhile, especially Cloris Leachman’s brief but commanding appearance as Tarnower’s snobby East coast matron of a sister. Her spot-on accent (unlike Kingsley’s, which seems to waver), mannerisms, and facial expressions are a capsule performance of great acting.

Annette Bening once again demonstrates that she’s an actress of great range and depth. Whether her performance mirrors the real Jean Harris I have no clue, but the character she creates here travels a believable arc from a respectable divorcee courted by a wealthy doctor to a desperate, defeated and drug addicted woman trying to maintain what little dignity she has left.  [**1/2 out of 5]

One thought on “Review: Mrs. Harris (2006)

  1. I caught that movie too on digital. Annette Bening…how I wish she would do more acting.
    I agree with you, they seemed conflicted about doing this movie as camp or serious. But it was okay to watch, mostly because of Anette.

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