Appellate Judge Amanda DeWees cautions us that this quirky romantic drama is not a sequel to GoodFellas. This Henry Hill actually uses his violin case to carry a violin.
Music was his passion—until she came along.
Henry Hill is a bland title for a movie that, while not exactly bland, is certainly not as charming as it thinks it is. This independent film tries hard to be quirky, but that doesn't make it endearing. Its sluggish pace and predictability prevent it from transcending its elementary story line, which is simply that Henry (Jamie Harrold, Hannibal), a troubled musical prodigy, needs help—and finds it in the person of Cynthia (Moira Kelly, The West Wing), a sexy young woman passing through town.
We first meet Henry at a violin audition, where he freezes up—not for the first time. He then gets drunk, is tormented by memories of his violent, drunken uncle Owen (Michael Kimbal), who taught him to play the piano years ago, and shoots himself. Fortunately for Henry, if not for us, the damage he inflicts is minimal, and he leaves New York to recuperate in the small Maine town where the rest of his family lives. Throughout the remainder of the film's 79 minutes (not 85, as the case insert maintains), we watch Henry try to find his musical voice and woo the jaded Cynthia, an unlikely muse, who moves into Owen's old shack as refuge from her own mysterious past.
The film's atmosphere is low-key, with the exception of the overheated flashbacks to the abusive Owen and a crime he committed that, we can only suppose, resulted in his present absence from the scene. I found it baffling that none of the characters referred to this crime or even seemed to be avoiding referring to it; it was as if only the director was aware of the event at all. This made me wonder why it was even necessary to the film: Surely Owen's volatile, hectoring form of musical instruction was itself reason enough for Henry to grow up inhibited from performing in public. Likewise, whatever past events brought Cynthia into Henry's life are a closed book. These unexplored subplots would have been welcome in a film that is relentlessly linear.
Overall, much of the film's effect rests with Henry: If you like him, you'll probably like the movie. I felt that he was too smirky—he seemed to find himself adorable when he gazed up through his eyelashes—and only toward the end of the film did I find myself warming to him. Moira Kelly's Cynthia is sassy and pretty but undeveloped. The supporting characters, with the exception of Henry's weary-looking parents, are presented as if they're adorably eccentric, but their quirks seemed artificial to me. Henry's little sister, Nicole (Eden Riegel, American Pie), is a welcome presence in that she is one of the few realistic characters, and she and Henry have a sweet scene together.
The film is also hindered by amateurish camera work and clumsy, jarring editing. Curiously, both these elements seemed to improve somewhat over the course of the film, which makes me wonder if it was shot in sequence. The full-frame picture is also very soft, marred by an absurd amount of speckling, and sometimes jitters as well. Audio is likewise mediocre to poor, with volume levels wildly uneven: A lot of Henry's mumbled dialogue gets lost, while noises of silverware and dishes are practically deafening. The only extra is the film's trailer, which is unaccountably in widescreen.
Overall, Henry Hill doesn't have the emotional impact it reaches for, and not enough about it feels fresh or different to make it worth seeking out except for fans of the actors. The film does have a certain oddball charm and some unexpectedly funny moments, but some sequences that are supposed to be funny don't come off, as when Henry discusses his romantic plight with farm animals. I'd call Henry Hill a well-meaning misfire.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Vanguard Cinema
Review content copyright © 2004 Amanda DeWees; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.