Wait Up Harriet
One doesn’t normally think of the Canadian Tuxedo as swim wear but …

Theatrical Release Date: Unknown
DVD Release Date: April 29, 2008
Directors: Angus Benfield & Hanna Eichler
Cast: Angus Benfield, Melanie Cannan, Lynda Milligan, Mitch Potts, Javier Jarquin

I think it’s clear I have a bit of an obsession with cinema from Australia and New Zealand. The energy and vitality in the people there seems to pop on-screen in a manner that just seems to be lacking from mainstream American film. As a result, I try and make an effort to track down little-known films (to us Yanks, anyway) and am thankful to have a place to help spread the word.

Some of those films are powerhouse performance pieces like “Somersault“, quirky character studies like “Eagle vs. Shark” or small, heartfelt stories like “Peaches” . With “Wait Up Harriet”, directors Angus Benfield and Hanna Eichler have created the latter … kind of.

I say kind of because there are a number of stumbling blocks to the film; terrible pacing, woeful picture quality due to lack of anything resembling a budget and lackluster acting. Any one of these things would be enough to sink a ship and having all of them together is nearly the death of it all. However, wading through all of these issues, there are some genuine moments of truth and honesty that find a way to peek their head above the water.

In the film, we meet Jack – a firefighter (Angus Benfield) coping with the loss of his wife who has retreated from the world – preferring to stay inside his home and drink beer rather than go out and live the life he has left. Through a friend of his late wife’s, some fellow firefighters and his son, he navigates his way back onto the highway of the living.

All very trite and far from original, sure. Still, what I appreciated about the film was allowing Jack to truly wallow in his misery. It takes a lot of coaxing and arm twisting to bring him around and I like that the audience is able to see how damaged he has become. So many films use this plot device to create some level of gravitas to a romantic piece and there is little more than one scene of the main character looking through pictures and then maybe a scene or two of him resisting his burgeoning feelings towards the new girl … not so with “Wait Up Harriet”.

This isn’t about Jack finding a new wife. It’s about him valuing the people still around him and finding a way to put one foot in front of the other, despite the pain he’ll always feel as a result of such a tragedy. The journey to come out on the other side of a loss like this isn’t easy and I thank the filmmakers for depicting it that way.

However, as I briefly touched upon, there are a lot of problems working against all that goodwill. I’ll start with the pacing. There clearly needed to be one more person editing down the material to keep the film moving along with better purpose. I like having some scenes done in a patient style – allowing the mood of the film to sink in – I just don’t need it all of the time.

Then there’s the acting … or what they decide to call acting. While Benfield has a few moments where he conveys his pain quite well, more often than not it all feels like a school play. Many of the lines come out like people just learned them and only recently put the script down. As a result, most of the actors’ emotions are forced or just plain unconvincing.

Perhaps the biggest problem to being able to recommend this whole-heartedly is the terrible, terrible camera work and picture quality. Apparently, all they had was a third-rate DV camera and a tripod with a broken leg. Putting someone on the crew who had taken at least one cinematography or lighting course would have gone a long way as well. Just about every scene is either too bright or too dark and the color balances are far from inspiring.

I also had a problem with the ending, which comes across far too quickly considering the buildup to the rest of the film and feels like a cop-out. Additionally, it doesn’t help that there’s a religious angle that rubs me the wrong way because it feels preachy rather than natural but there are probably a lot more people who would agree with this message than with me, so I can understand its inclusion.

“Wait Up Harriet” means well and has a lot of heart and passion behind it. Unfortunately, the poor production value and stunted acting take its toll and I can only give it a 2 out of 5. It moves with the speed of a late-night soap and you might often find yourself looking for something to do while the film is running. If you’re a fan of truly independent cinema that’s more like a small student production, you’ll find a lot to like here. Otherwise, it’s best to go and find some other heartfelt story to pass the time.