Mrs. Harris (TV Movie 2005) Poster

(2005 TV Movie)

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10/10
Bening's Performance as Harris ...
Idioteck-112 July 2006
... Is among her best work: it is nuanced, studied and whip-smart. She has a flair for bone-dry humor that is on full display here.

HBO continues to show that it is the go-to network for actresses over a certain age, providing them with some bravura roles.

Jean Harris could have easily descended into caricature and vapidness, but Bening finds her heart.

When I first saw that the film was being made (it was first made for television with Ellen Burstyn as Jean in 1980), I thought "why again?" but the filmmakers have proved their case: the film works on every level, but especially the performances. They are compulsively watchable.

Her performance is expertly modulated and as the film unwinds she becomes very human: her crime is not such a surprise and her motives seem justified.

The actresses interplay with Kingsley is a wonder to behold.

If you are a fan of singular acting, this will be worth your while.

Mary McDonnell, Philip Baker Hall, Brett Butler, Frances Fisher, Cloris Leachman and the original Harris, Burstyn, all show up for great cameos.

This is not a film you will ever see in a theater, HBO has cornered the market on interesting, vital character studies.
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9/10
That's why it received a slew of Emmy nominations, right?
hotfriend117 February 2007
This is a case of someone speaking as though they saw an entirely different movie. And, I guess, the individual above did.

"Mrs. Harris" is another solid effort in a long line of memorable HBO movies. But, please, don't take my word for it. Click on the link in the upper left margin of this page, where is says "Awards & Nominations." Is there an Emmy Award that this movie was NOT nominated for? Along with two SAG nominations and a slew of other nominations. I rest my case on that. (No, I don't think it was favoritism.) Two very solid performances by Annette Benning & Sir Ben Kingsley, a strong supporting cast, and a very good script. (Nice soundtrack, too.) Ignore Beavis's drivel and give this one a look.
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10/10
Best movie I saw at Toronto Film Festival
WildConvergence25 September 2005
My husband and I sat through 20 films this year and this one, along with Michael Haneke's "Cache," was by a long way the best and the most surprising we saw. You go to a gala at a film festival and you're prepared for mostly safe stuff chock full of movie stars, so many of them, like curios in cabinets ("Walk the Line" and "North Country" are two such examples; there are others), that you lapse into a deep sleep just looking at the credits, knowing the exercises in taste and decorum that will follow. I wasn't encouraged by the cast list of "Mrs. Harris" but was really interested in the whole Jean Harris story so along we went to the screening.

For those of you who are not familiar with the tale, this is the murder of the Scarsdale Diet doctor saga in 1980. Jean Harris was an uptight headmistress who, so the media spun it at the time, in a fit of jealous rage drove from Virginia to New York in a blinding rainstorm and pumped the doctor full of bullets because he wanted to marry another woman.

What seems like a pretty straightforward narrative turns out to be anything but that, principally because of the way the story is told in this version and the incredible performances, not just from Annette Bening, though I have never seen such subtlety from this actress but also from Ben Kingsley, Cloris Leachman, Frances Fisher, Mary McDonnell and a host of others in truly perfectly judged cameos.

The first-time writer and director of "Mrs. Harris" never judges the characters and thus wisely puts the responsibility for making any judgments solely in the laps of the audience. The tonal shifts in this film are dizzying but never confusing and perhaps the most brilliant thing about it is the way in which you're seduced into laughing at or with all the insanity and then immediately are shown something that makes you question why you laughed in the first place.

It's not an easy ride or the most comfortable of films to watch, but it's one of the finest depictions of obsession, dependency and love gone wrong I've seen in a long time. It's not for everyone. My husband, who also loved it, had a heated debate with another couple we saw it with who hated it and mostly hated it because of the way it refuses to score easy victim versus villain points. It's divisive and from time to time you wonder about certain shots or the juxtaposition of certain scenes but these are minor quibbles. This is a debut feature that outclasses most of what I've seen in multiplexes this whole year. Go if you want to think and feel as a result of that thinking.

I heard a rumor that the film is not going to be released in movie theaters but will air on HBO. That, if true, is a pity because it's something that should be seen and the performances, writing and direction are first rate.
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A Tawdry Story and an Amateurish Film!
lavatch25 February 2006
This film was atypical of the many high-caliber films produced by HBO. "Mrs. Harris" played like a generic network made-for-television biopic. The normally excellent Ben Kingsley and Annette Bening were both mediocre, and the main problem was with the teleplay. The structure of the film was odd in the use of flashbacks interlarded with the courtroom scenes. The actual relationship of Jean Harris and Herman Tarnower was downplayed, as the film progressed through vignettes that were simply variations on a single stormy and turbulent argument.

The result was a one-note film with one-note performances. Tarnower was portrayed as a boorish womanizer, Harris as a pill-popping neurotic. There were no levels and no depth to the characters. Because the film-maker refused to take a stand on the actual sequence of events during the shooting, multiple versions of the crucial death scene were staged, and the viewer was left with no greater understanding of the events at the end of the film than at the beginning.

This was amateurish film-making with no substantial research apparent and no integrity in attempting to come to terms with this enormously publicized and scrutinized murder. Astonishingly, the film even attempted to integrate comedy with short cameos of actors playing friends and relatives and directly addressing the camera. The scenes did not work, and they tended to trivialize a serious subject.

In the tragic killing of Dr. Herman Tarnower by Jean Harris, there might have been the potential for a film to shed light on why Mrs. Harris pulled the trigger inflicting fatal gunshot wounds on the doctor. Unfortunately, this shallow film lacks intelligence in the scripting and fails even to deliver the kind of compelling drama that one may find in purely fictionalized films about a crime of passion, such as "Play Misty For Me" or "Fatal Attraction."
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Riveting Performances by A Cast of Veteran Actors
md_dc19 September 2006
I always wanted to know the details of the Jean Harris murder story. However, because I kept to scholarly reading, I didn't want to take the time or money to buy the books & magazines about her circumstances.

Now that I've seen the show, I have a greater understanding of the background history & consequential events that led to Harris's trial & conviction.

My knowledge grew because I witnessed riveting performances by a host of veteran actors: ones that I have grown to trust NOT to be involved in shameless mockeries of the truth, like the "Path to 9/11" is. I'm more curious to go back & read the books, newspapers & magazines about "Mrs. Harris."
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9/10
Unique Style and Fresh take on the Stale "Bio-Pic" Genre...
bdh1825 January 2007
...Kingsley and Bening's performances are stellar. Like the Film itself, their portrayal of the idiosyncratic/intellectual characters and script is amazing. I'm usually not very psyched to see a Bio-pic because a film's length cannot squeeze the complexities of a life and often only the really good or bad is portrayed, neither giving the full story.

Mrs.Harris and "Hy" remind me of people from that niche of society I've known,especially in the way some intellectuals repress emotion w/logic. While for the most part I respect people who process feelings before acting out, but like in the film, too much repressed emotion can be a ticking time-bomb.

Props to the Film-makers and actors for an entertaining, unique,smart,& funny film that like most good/great films get better upon each viewing as details,layers are revealed. I'd recommend to those who seen it once, or didn't watch the film in its entirety to hold judgement until the 2nd viewing.

The film is well cast down to the smallest roles. And while Ellen Burstyn is a great actress(she played role of Mrs Harris in made-for-TV film soon after actual events in the early 80's)its amazing that she was nominated for an Emmy for her 15 seconds of screen time(she plays an ex-lover of Hy's that is being interviewed in a sort of "mock"umentary w/different characters who know the main characters in some way that threads its way throughout the film. The main plot is told through flashbacks from the trial of Mrs.Harris). It makes me wonder if whomever votes for the Emmy's owed her something, or it was pay-back for a past snubbing? While her 15seconds are solid, after seeing it three times I don't see them as worthy of an award or any more recognition than any of the other small roles(Brett Butler,Phillip Baker Hall, and Mary McDonald also give good short performances in the mock-doc thread)?? IMO ALL awards for art are irrelevant anyway(in comparing arts quality) because art is a subjective medium thats quality(sans technical proficiencies)and comparisons are up to an individuals personal taste and preference. Award shows are really just vehicles to promote stars, films, and the industries as a whole(music and/or Film). I'm not naive to the awards relevance and value to the individuals nominated or those involved w/a nominated project. Obviously the Financial gains and opportunity from the exposure and critical recognition is very important to an industry thats goal is to attract as many customers as possible(errr business). Too often people begin to believe that awards are fact,or a true gauge. Like a sporting competition. I've heard competent adults say things like..."that film should've won best picture because it was BETTER than that film..."??).

As a dark comedy Mrs Harris IMO is an excellent film, thats characters and script resinate later. I've laughed several times upon remembering certain lines by Bening and Kingsley. Kinglsey's portrayal of "Hy's" laugh is Hysterical
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4/10
Choppy
violentverna13 March 2006
Despite two strong lead actors in Ben Kingsley and Annette Benning, Mrs Harris flops. The tone of the script is the problem. It should combust at the end after a slow, almost unbearable build-up of tension. The audience should FEEL Jean Harris' rage, frustration, and hopelessness. Instead, we're supposed to laugh. The script is written as farce, not drama. Good drama can contain cynical humour and pathos, as long as it's not dominated by either one. Then it's not drama. I'm sure Hollywood bigwigs said to the poor scriptwriter, "no one wants to watch a tragic love-story between two fiftyish neurotics, even if the broad murders the guy in the end." Of course, the producers would be too young to remember the case itself. So, they took the easy route and made the autumn romance a farce. They sporadically threw in some booty, and the murder as teasers to make the movie bearable to watch.

Yup, they missed the boat with this one.
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6/10
The diet doctor
jotix10026 February 2006
The incident in which this HBO film is based upon, was fodder for the sensational press during the time it was front page news. Phyllis Nagy adapted the material for the screen, as well as directed. Ms. Nagy makes a point for not taking sides in the way this tale is presented. Jean Harris plays the most important part since, after all, she was the only one that lived to tell her story. How much of it is fiction, and how much it is true?, let the viewer arrive at his own conclusion.

The basic problem with this ambitious production is the casting of the two principal characters. Annette Benning, obviously acting on the text Ms. Nagy wrote, comes across as a silly woman. We don't get to see a dignified Jean Harris, or at least the woman one saw in pictures, and on the television news. Ms. Benning is a good actress, as she has proved herself in other films. Jean Harris, alas, is not one of the best roles she has played.

Ben Kingsley, the wonderful English actor, plays Dr. Herman Tarnower, the victim of Jean Harris' jealousy. Mr. Kingsley's take on this doctor is not convincing. His Dr. Tarnower comes across as a man who had a roving eye for attractive women of a certain class, which is what made him fall for Mrs. Harris, to begin with. According to Ms. Nagy, this doctor had an indecisive nature paying more attention to his mother when she bluntly questions why is he marrying the poor Mrs. Harris.

The opening credits show us how other women, at least in film noir, have dealt with men their own way. What Ms. Nagy's screen play does is to take the viewpoint that maybe Mrs. Harris didn't intend to kill Dr. Tarnower, at all, when the facts of the case tell us she fired a few shots during that fatal encounter.
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6/10
Good Actors Wasted
gelman@attglobal.net11 June 2007
For anyone who remembers the shooting of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor at the hands of the school mistress from Madeira, the fancy girl's school in Potomac, MD, this film is a soap opera scandal which should have been allowed to rest in yellowing newspaper clippings (though those are probably on line now in incorruptible digits). Annette Bening is Mrs. Harris, the abandoned and lovelorn teacher. Bening is a fine actress and while she succeeds in bringing her character to life, all that is accomplished is to demonstrate once again that Mrs. Harris was pathetic. Kingsley has much less to work with and all he is able to demonstrate is that Herman (Hy) Tarnower was an unmitigated son-of-a-bitch, which we already knew. Why did Ellen Burstyn and Cloris Leachman allow themselves to be roped into this? One assumes for the money, certainly not the art. Could this have been a better picture? Given the facts of the case, which are reproduced more or less as they were presented at the time, I would guess not. Neither of the principals has much of a back story to be unpacked and, while the details of the murder made headlines for days at the time, at the end of the day it's merely a sad, sordid, essentially uninvolving tale.
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9/10
Color My World with Blood... a Tribute to the Enigmatic Mrs. Harris
invoking_janis23 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilered just in case you are not familiar with the story. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Utterly fabulous film with a strong cast. Cameos done by Ellen Burnstyn and Brett Butler capture Tarnower's eclectic selection of women. Annette Bening does an amazing job of capturing the complexity of real-life woman Jean Harris, yet she does so with an seeming effortlessness that makes her performance eloquent. She IS Jean Harris -- petite, brilliant, vulnerable and dangerous. What a gifted and powerful actress! Ben Kingsley also does wonderful homage to cad/victim Dr. Tarnower. This movie is well cast, well scripted, and well done. For instance, I thought the thunderbolts edge the soft character of Jean Harris quite nicely. Dishes, diamonds and dark glasses. Also accompanied by poignant selections of music from the late sixties and seventies (for instance, Chicago's 'Color My World' as they struggle to get the doctor's stretcher down the spiral staircase as Jean sits by herself in a comatose haze -- very well done indeed. I'm not sure I totally believe her, but I sure do like her. This movie is wonderful!
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1/10
They don't get much worse than this
lffurth9 April 2006
Surreal and awful. Disjointed and self-important. If you don't already know the story, forget learning anything from this movie. If you do, then you can't believe the license they take with the material. If you like good movies and interesting scripts, than this is not the movie for you. Dialog flatter than a pancake. You can't believe such talented actors can be so bad. And Ben Kingsley's pseudo-New York/Brooklyn/Jewish/English accent is so bad that Arnold Schwarzenegger himself would be wondering why he wasn't cast in the role. And, oh yes, the BS docu-stlye filming is all over the place. A true work of crap....
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8/10
Great performances and accuracy.
ecalantoni1 March 2006
Having read Jean Harris' autobiography, as well as other materials on this case, I thought Annette Bening's portrayal of Jean Harris was excellent. She was Jean Harris. Ben Kingsley's performance was also excellent--he was given little to work with beyond witty/smug remarks/situations yet to his credit he was able to exude the charm that Tarnower reportedly had, and the chemistry between the Tarnower and Harris was obvious, which made their connection believable. I was drawn to this movie as a fan of both Bening and Kinglsey, and the chemistry between these two very charismatic actors did not disappoint.

What was bothersome was that the film seemed to fluctuate between serious drama and intentional camp. This made it difficult to get too involved in the story or feel empathy for the characters, which is often what people look for in a film of this genre. Even the soundtrack (which was excellent on its own) was used to this end—just when I was getting drawn into Harris' "withdrawal-induced perspective, a pop song from the 70's (was it Bread?) pulled me right out of it. But the more I thought about it (and read some viewer comments on this site) the more appropriate this approach felt. After all, the whole appeal of this story to the public was that a highly successful physician and the Headmistress of a prestigious boarding school were involved in a rather tawdry situation. Two highly educated, superior-acting, society folks who took themselves *way* too seriously were involved in affairs, drugs and cheap catfights. If the shooting scene at the beginning of the film seemed ridiculous and unbelievable, well, that was exactly how Jean Harris described the events herself. So after much consideration, I think that some aspects of the film that other viewers here have criticized were perhaps an effort by the filmmakers to underscore the absurd in this story. This makes "Mrs. Harris" not the typical murder drama/documentary and definitely worth seeing.

So comes down to this: Great cast, great performances (the cameo performances as well) and it accurately portrays the complexities of the situations and the people involved in this story. It is also somewhat disturbing--you won't leave with a feeling that justice was necessarily served, or that anything was really resolved, or with any sense of empathy for the characters. But hey, that's what happens in real life.
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2/10
Boring Movie
ccihostmom27 February 2006
I looked forward with some anticipation to watching this film Saturday. What a disappointment. The kindest thing I can say is that the movie is really boring. The dialog was dull and unnatural. The actors seemed miscast. There were elements of humor, but not enough to make the film a parody. Annette Bening's voice was distractingly strange.

The fake accents were not convincing. The story itself was told in an interesting way, but the story was dull, the characters were not sympathetic. It's probably important to LIKE someone in a story.

I normally count on HBO to give us really good films -- entertaining movies on interesting topics, well acted, and compelling. Sadly, this particular film failed on everything except the topic, which I did think would be interesting.

So, save your time. Opt for another film more deserving of your attention.
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5/10
Disappointing Film with a Fine Cast
gradyharp26 February 2006
MRS. HARRIS is an HBO dud movie, and that is primarily because of the content of the story, the writing, the direction, and the waste of some fine actors' time. Based on a book by Shana Alexander adapted for the screen and directed by Phyllis Nagy, the story relates in fractured pieces between a murder scene, a trial and flashbacks the pathetic story of the death of Dr. Herman Tarnower (a wasted Ben Kingsley) the Scarsdale Diet author/doctor/womanizer at the hands of Mrs. Jean Harris (Annette Bening) a upwardly climbing school marm who becomes Tarnower's live in lover and addicted to his prescribed drugs. Her life is plagued by Tarnower's inability to keep his apparent elephantine genitals (this is made clear in an extended ridiculously inane segment in a locker room!) in his pants and eventually her own shaky self perception leads her to a suicide attempt that results in Tarnower's murder. The story is based on fact so there is no giving away an ending.

The only reason to watch this bit of tripe is Annette Bening who is such a gifted actress that she can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - and this screenplay is definitely the latter. A surprising squandering of money is obvious in the casting of bit parts to fine actors such as Cloris Leachman, Brett Butler, Ellen Burstyn, Mary McDonnell, Phillip Baker Hall, Chloë Sevigny, etc. Many have only one line! Otherwise this is a one of those films that relies on media blitz spectacle posing as a worthy story to create a movie. A must miss - except for Bening. Grady Harp, February 06
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8/10
That Voodoo That You Do So Well
nycritic11 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Such is the thing which tangles out emotions and makes nervous wrecks out of our erstwhile model citizen facade. Jean Harris, a competent woman of society, was faced with that insurmountable challenge: the slippery Casanova she was attached to.

The events were the talk of the town back when they occurred in 1980. Jean Harris was on trial for the murder of Dr. Herman Tarnower, a crime she denied having any involvement with but one which put her behind bars for 13 years. While there is no doubt that she did kill Dr. Tarnower, MRS. HARRIS focuses on the events that brought these two disparate people together.

Jean Harris' world is one of bright tones, colors, and superficial happiness. She at times seems to be quite ahead of her own times and is as sharp as a tack. But all this was a clever facade which hid a neediness that only required that particular person to bring to light. Tarnower, a man who makes no effort to hide his smooth operator character, comes into her life and takes root there but makes. You would think he'd at least have some decorum in hiding his affairs but he throws them right at Harris -- for almost 14 years -- who is determined to stand by him no matter how much it hurt her moral integrity and caused her eventual meltdown.

This situation is crucial for many women who mirror their happiness in the man whom they are involved with: neither of them see anything else out there, hence the point of director Phyllis Nagy in having these lovely, glowing tones. Harris exists and so does the world around her. All is pitch-perfect to a giddy point, it's like viewing a version of THE STEPFORD WIVES. Once Tarnower pushes her one too many times -- like a cat teasing an otherwise deceptive mouse -- the whole image becomes a sick grey and Harris ages years before our eyes, looking dead, like a bag lady on crack. Bening is remarkable as usual in shaving off her glamor to portray both sides of the moon, often in the same scene. She makes Jean Harris' fears and wrangled emotions come alive and her moments with Kingsley are the best in the film. As a matter of fact, they are the film. Kingsley is the puppet master playing her with hints of sadism. His reaction to a Happy New Year's party in which she tells him, "Instead of focusing on hurting other women, why don't you focus on hurting just me?" is priceless. All I could say was, "No wonder she did him in. I'd have done him myself." MRS HARRIS, despite what other critics say, does not move too fast. I felt its pace was easy as a matter of fact. It wouldn't have hurt if the cinematography would have gone darker as Harris and Tarnower's verbal tangles went for the worse, but it's a minor complaint. Being an HBO-produced drama it allows itself to be viewed and enjoyed. Watch Ellen Burstyn in a teeny-tiny cameo, though. She played Jean Harris herself twenty-five years ago herself in another made-for-TV movie called THE PEOPLE VS. JEAN HARRIS. Also noteworthy is Cloris Leachman playing a she-dog of a sister to Kingsley and hating Bening all the way through.
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10/10
A work of genius
twatzilla10 November 2005
Without giving away a delightful surprise, the first music you hear when this exercise in cinematic brilliance opens will - if you're already familiar with the Scarsdale Diet Doctor saga - make you gasp, then titter, then sit forward in your seat, determined not to miss one second of this masterpiece.

I didn't expect much, really. Another of Annette Bening's star turns, I thought, still annoyed that she got gypped out of the Oscar last year for "Being Julia." But, I figured, Mrs. Harris was a local - we live in Northern Virginia - and so we went to see it at the Toronto Film Festival.

Here's what: I want to see it again, the day it opens, and then I want to buy the soundtrack CD, and then I want to own a dozen copies of the DVD, simply because this is a movie with such a compelling story, told in the most remarkable narrative, with a cast that defies all description.

If, as one person here commented, HBO is thinking of releasing it on TV, I would say that that would be a HUGE mistake, since it's a BIG BIG BIG movie that needs a BIG BIG BIG screen. Remember Norma Desmond's famous line? Well, don't make these big actors work on the small screen.

The writer/director, Phyllis Nagy, I am told, has never written or directed a movie before. Well, where has this brilliant beauty been? I tell you, I'll just go and see anything this woman works on, because this is genius, this was a breathtaking and riveting experience, and I KNEW HOW IT ENDED! Imagine that. Even though I remembered the whole story quite well, I hung onto each frame, each second, as if the fate of world depended on it. Ms. Nagy is a national treasure, whoever she is, and I wish I knew her, because I would give her a big hug and a kiss and I would tell her to run, not to walk, and start writing another movie, directing another movie, delivering another work of genius to a grateful and joyous public.

Absolutely unbelievable film, "Mrs. Harris." Kudo, Ms. Nagy.
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10/10
Revisiting the Scarsdale Diet Doctor Murder!
Syl7 March 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Mrs. Jean Harris is a smart, educated woman but she's made some bad choices in life. The film begins with the shooting death of her longtime lover, Dr. Herman "Hy" Tarnower," better known as the Scarsdale Diet Doctor and best selling author. First, I have to say that the casting of this film was perfect. I recognized many faces such as Cloris Leachman who played Hy's sister, Pearl; Nan Martin played his mother; Chloe Sevigny played Lynne Tryforos; and others. This case occurred in 1980 and Jean testified on her own behalf and refused to have an attorney slander Hy. In fact, that was probably the main reason that she got convicted and served time. This shouldn't be a spoiler since this is factual. Anyway, Annette Bening and Sir Ben Kingsley give believable performances as the doomed couple. There are plenty of wonderful appearances by Mary McDonnell, Brett Butler, Lee Garlington, Michael Gross, and Frances Fisher. Oh, I can't forget a brief appearance by Ellen Burstyn who played Jean in the early 1980s too.
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10/10
fascinating look at the decline of a relationship
sterlingmohr13 March 2006
looking over some of the other comments here, i was confused. how could such a sophisticated treatment of a tabloid nightmare attract such vitriol? i just did not understand the response. so i started looking at some of the other movies people who've commented on this one like and after the third time i saw DOMINO get a rave in a user comment profile i stopped reading. this is why over the years i have not been moved to put my mark on IMDb, but this just made me mad. not every movie is for everyone and people who are looking for something a little out of the ordinary end up bypassing movies like this because a person whose taste is not in sync with a movie like MRS. HARRIS trashes it on a site where everybody and anybody thinks they are critics.

all opinions are valid. i'm not saying they're not. we should stick to our opinions and not present our imperfect understanding of what goes in to making a movie as the bible truth.

that said, i'll throw my two cents into the ring. MRS HARRIS takes a great many chances with narrative style, tone, blurring the line between fact and fiction and asking us to reconsider the boundaries of things like brutality, masochism, and how movies usually present things like murder. it's for me as much a movie about how we are conditioned to watch movies about relationships and violence as anything else.

the performances are really incredible, the best i've seen from many of these actors. for people to say the direction and writing are bad is really an injustice. it's a wonderful script, sharp, intelligent, sad and so horribly funny. that's the point, i believe, that the moves from black comedy to drama are done on purpose. it's too carefully made to be anything other than that. with performances like the ones from bening, kingsley, leachman and many others, how anybody can say the direction is bad is beyond me. also the music, the choice of songs, is first rate, the photography and the costumes are, too.

is it a perfect movie? no, it's not, but it's an exciting one that pushes more than a few boundaries and for me that rates an 'excellent.' i haven't seen any perfect movies and i hope i never do because when i do i will stop watching.
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8/10
More then OK, less then great
triple826 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
SPOILERS THROUGH:

Mrs. Harris, like many movies, has both good and bad aspects to it. I went into this thinking it would either be an extraordinary film or absolutely awful. I was wrong on both guesses. The movie is above average but not great although there are certainly some great elements to it.

First the positives. Annette Benning and Ben Kingsley are cast in the main roles. Now just that fact alone will probably encourage some people, who ordinarily wouldn't be interested in this type of film, to give it a viewing. And Benning and Kingsley do not disappoint. Both of them deliver very powerful performances, particularly Benning who in my opinion is one of the top actresses working today. No matter what type of character she plays she always makes you forget she is Annette Benning. And this performance is no different.

The combination of Kingsley and Benning together on screen elevates this movie considerably. Both of them are able to play their roles with conviction and believability. The movie and it's two leads, were excellent at showing the relationship from the happy beginning, the problems that came up, and the downward spiral. They were also excellent in really painting a portrait of both these people and tapping into the emotion element of who they were and the red flags that started to come up that were able to show the viewer they were on a collision coarse. Although the movie sometimes seemed made for television in a lifetime channel kind of way, those moments did not last, because Benning and Kingsley were around to prevent that and they were throughly convincing as a screen couple. They never resorted to theatrics and played their roles with a naturalness that one very rarely sees in this type of film.

Something else that must be mentioned is the great use of music in the movie. Now a lot of movies have music in them but it's the rare film that can use music in an effective way. That element was done very well here.The "Color my world" scene in particular stood out to me. It's just not often that a movie is that good in knowing what musical selections work that well, and this movie did. Kudos to whoever selected the music.

So with the great performances, the great music choices and the photography which was good as well, that's enough to make the movie watchable. Unfortunately it doesn't ever cross the line to being a "Great" movie and that's largely because of the editing, sequences of scenes, and flow of the picture in general.

I really thought the editing was rather choppy and think the story would have been told much better without all the flashbacks. The whole thing with the supporting cast talking to the camera has been done in other movies, sometimes done well, most notably in the excellent film "To Die For" where it really worked. But it doesn't work here. We don't see nearly enough of any of the supporting cast and most frustrating was not being able to see either of the two leads interact with almost anybody except each other.

I am sure I'm not the only one who would have liked to see more of their relationships with other people and we didn't really get to see that. The editing was off and there was WAY to much retelling of the night of the murder. That DID seem exploitative and after awhile it was like: how many times do they need to show us bullets raining out in the rain soaked night? That was how the movie started(to much to fast if you ask me) and those scenes took away from the film and there was to much time devoted to the same scene.

The scene of Ben Kingsley in the locker room was honestly rather strange but I suppose I liked it. It sure was different. Mrs. Harris isn't what I would call a great movie but at times it did have it's moments and probably would have had even more if certain things were fixed a bit. I would call it an above average film that falls short of being great but is definitely worth a look. My vote's 8 of 10.
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5/10
"I'm Sure She Meant To Call Me A Desiccated Old Bag…Not That She Would Use The Word 'Desiccated'." --- Jean Harris (Annette Bening)
Robert_Hearth24 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
"Mrs. Harris" (2005)

Directed By: Phyllis Nagy

Starring: Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, Frances Fisher, Cloris Leachman, & Ellen Burstyn

MPAA Rating: Not Applicable

There are good movies…and there are bad movies. There are average movies and there are amazing movies. Movies come in all different states of quality. But, "Mrs. Harris" is one of the very few movies that just don't fall into any category perfectly. The performances are flawless, the movie is well-made, and the initial storyline is intriguing. On the other hand, the movie is just uninteresting, disjointed, and pretentious. The promise of the plot is ruined due to tacky flashback sequences that don't appear to be in any particular order, many of which don't lead to anything of importance. "Mrs. Harris" desires to be a hard-hitting mystery that seeks to explain a real-life event, but it simply isn't. It doesn't do nearly enough to grab its audience, making for a rather dull watch. Do not get me wrong! "Mrs. Harris" is a well-made film and Annette Bening gives a spectacular performance. It has every ingredient to make a perfect film, except for one…the most important one. That ingredient is emotion. I kept waiting to feel something for the characters—something that would make me give a darn about them, but nothing ever presented itself. In fact, it seemed as though the movie wanted to do the complete opposite of what it wanted to do. It made both of our main characters into two dull, unlikable, and rather clichéd people. We are supposed to feel for these people? I do not think so.

Jean Harris (Bening) had dated the famous inventor of the Scarsdale Diet, Dr. Herman Tarnower (Kinglsey) for fourteen years before she shot him to death in his home. Harris, a divorced schoolteacher, had been swept off of her feet by Tarnower's irresistible charms…but, unfortunately, she was not the only one. Tarnower was famous for being a complete womanizer who moved from one woman to the next without so much as a heartfelt "I Love You". But, Jean thought she was different. After all, Tarnower had proposed to her with a ring worth more than $10,000. Later, Tarnower reclaimed his proposal, completely destroying Jean. Harris is, according to reports, a depressed, obsessive, and mentally-unstable woman who was suicidal and almost completely unhinged. After the death of Tarnower, Jean testified that she had only come to say goodbye and was planning on committing suicide. But, Tarnower attempted to wrestle the gun from her grasp and was accidentally shot in the process. Based on the 1980's media spectacle, "Mrs. Harris" tells this intriguing story of murder, obsession, and infidelity…though it is not nearly as interesting as it should have been.

The performances in "Mrs. Harris" are easily the highlight. Annette Bening gave everything she had and gave a phenomenal performance. I found her to be completely convincing. Unfortunately, the script did not give her part enough interest. Ben Kinglsey needed to give a darn good performance to make up for both "Bloodrayne" and "A Sound of Thunder". He did a great job…but not good enough to rectify both of those debacles. Why Ben? Why would you follow up two travesties with a mediocre film? Will you ever be in a good movie again? Cloris Leachman is always a delight. Here, she takes on a very serious role and handles herself very eloquently…though, I could not get the thought of her in "Scary Movie 4" out of my head. Frances Fisher gives an elegant, subdued performance. She did a nice job. Ellen Burstyn's role in this movie is now probably most remembered for being fourteen seconds in length and yet able to get her an Emmy nomination. Her performance, in my opinion, was good enough to warrant a nomination. She clearly believes in quality over quantity, because, in fourteen seconds, she gives a performance better than many people could give in an hour and a half.

When "Mrs. Harris" was over, I just could not grasp what I had seen. Every aspect of "Mrs. Harris", individually, is almost completely perfect. But, when everything was put together, these perfect pieces formed such a dull picture. I just didn't find myself interesting in the movie at all. I could not have cared less whether or not the characters lived, died, went to jail, went free, or ate each other in a bloody rage. There was no realism in the characters. I couldn't relate to any of them. The biggest problem, however, is the way in which the movie is edited. It begins with one scenario of the death of Tarnower (the one Jean Harris says occurred), then flashes back and forth between the court case of Harris and her past life with Tarnower. However, the flashback sequences all seem so disjointed. They are, at times, showing an argument between Tarnower and Harris and, at other times, showing them in love (or comfort, in the eyes of Tarnower). I simply got sick of having to regroup every fifteen minutes of the movie to decipher what page the movie was on and how this unlikable couple was getting along. You could watch "Mrs. Harris" simply for the performances and not feel cheated. So, after much deliberation, I have decided to recommend the movie. But remember: view it for the purpose of seeing great performances in action, not a great movie.

Final Thought: "Mrs. Harris" isn't a great movie, but its performances make up for many of its shortcomings.

Overall Rating: 5/10 (B-)
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3/10
With the material, this should have been good....Too shallow
MarieGabrielle27 August 2006
and anyone with an IQ over 50 will agree about the results of this.

A great story deracimated by a Hollywood studio (yet again) underestimating their audience.

Annette Bening, Sir Ben Kingsley, Frances Fisher, Frank Whaley, and other talented artists again prove one thesis I have: The most perfect, flawless actor cannot transcend bad writing, and inferior product.

This is proof. We need a re-make(soon). Mrs. Harris was a brilliant, over-achieving woman who had an obsessive relationship with Dr. Tarnower. The relationship was complex, and she surely did not act and speak like a brainless plebeian, as she is portrayed in this film. Nor, I am sure, was Tarnower as obviously repulsive. Why is it Hollywood has screenwriters who cannot comprehend intellectuals?. Perhaps they should read the New York Times Book Review at least one time a year, before they propose to understand people who grew up with education, writing, and achievement as a cornerstone, rather than as an aside to the Rolls Royce parked in the garage. Tiresome and ridiculous. 2/10. accomplishment.
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8/10
Very Nice Film!
BreanneB18 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I thought that this film was very nice. Great acting, costumes, production, script, true to the real life events, etc. It is definitely the truth about what really happened and it's definitely not one of those run-of-the-mill t.v. movies. I give it 8/10 stars.

This film about Dr.Herman Tarnower's and Jean Harris' longtime on and off relationship is based on the book "Very Much a Lady" by Shanna Alexander. The movie starts off with the shooting and then goes into the story being told by friends, family members, and others who knew both of them. I do have to say that Dr.Tarnower was a playboy who heartlessly used women, even though that is no excuse for Jean killing him. I think that Jean should have served longer in prison for the crime. I also think that this movie should have showen some of her prison life in which she helped others.

That is one of the things that I do think she did do right is help others in prison. I think she still is kind of crazy and in denial. This is because she claims that it was an accident, not murder. But it has been proved that is not the case.
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Comedy
sharilyn33 March 2006
If you look at this movie as humorous you'll soon see that it is a very dark comedy. It is sometimes sly and subtle, sometimes almost burlesque(the locker room scene) but always not taking itself too seriously. "We never fought except about the use of the subjunctive!" C'mon. I think Ben Kingsly always kept the comedy aspects of his character in mind and played it very broadly. This movie has what must be by far the most oddly matter-of-fact murder scene ever filmed. I think if you are old enough to remember when this was on the news it will enhance your appreciation of it. Watching people thought to be upper class brought low has been fodder for comedy since theater began.
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6/10
decent but nothing special
funkyfry23 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
An extraordinarily talented cast gathered for director Phylis Nagy's made for TV crime and punishment opus. The results aren't astounding (like, for example, "Reversal of Fortune"), but it's certainly interesting as a character study.

The story begins abruptly; rather than introduce the characters and setting, we are thrust into the primary "crime scene". Jean Harris (Annette Bening) confronts Dr. Herman Tarnower in his home and he urges her to sleep it off. Telling him that she drove 4 hours just to spend a few minutes with him, she produces a revolver and attempts to kill herself. In the process of attempting to stop her, the doctor is severely injured by 3 gunshot wounds. Once the "crime" is out of the way, the film goes back in time to fill us in on the background events that led to these events.

My feelings about the film are mixed. The performances are solid, and Kingsley is worth watching in just about anything. He's got a very interesting character here – a total narcissist whose main virtue seems to be the fact that he's so open and honest about it. His crowded room of hunting trophies symbolizes rather blatantly his attitudes about life in general, and women in particular.

He's not a very sympathetic character, but no matter how hard the film seems to try I just can't find Jean to be in the "right" here. First of all, I find the depiction of the crime which is shown later in the film based on the prosecution's evidence to be far more likely than the first version we're shown. Even allowing some room for the film to be ambiguous about its goals and giving them credit for showing the prosecution version, I think a number of factors tilt this film strongly in Jean's favor. Basically the film shows Jean as a victim of the doctor, particularly in that it asks us to accept that her depression and violent outburst are the result of her addiction to medication that Dr. Tarnower prescribed for her, and repeatedly reminds us that she took anything and everything he gave her based on faith. The film seems to ask us to hold the doctor responsible for her drug habit, which I find just as unpalatable as her story about the doctor being "accidentally" shot 3 times is untenable. Bening is a fine actress but she can't create pathos where none really belongs. The film is too heavy-handed in asking us to see things from her perspective, even going so far as to basically lampoon the doctor's living relatives and friends who doubt Jean's story and blame her for his death by directing these actors (including Cloris Leachman) in a ridiculous over-the-top manner.

This film will hold your attention to the end of its running time, after which point you may feel as I did that you actually wasted your time. That's not to say it's a horrible film, it's just that the story is finally not convincing on a human level because Bening's character is too improbable to generate anything beyond curiosity.
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8/10
Pretty descent
minsterbinster2 March 2006
I thought it was interesting, and I loved Annett Bening's work in it. Without it, there wouldn't be much to the movie. The line when she tells him to stop hurting so many women and just hurt her, is worthy of awards in itself. If there was any issue, it was with the writing. There was a lack of completion. I think it's because they really only have Jean Harris' account of what happened. I never believe people when they say that they were trying to kill themselves, but killed another person by accident, and were never able to kill themselves. But sometimes you have to sympathize with women who are mistreated so callously. I feel like their life was very much like it was portrayed: crazy. 8/10. Some good HBO Entertainment.
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