[CFF 2019 Review] Harpoon
As our narrator tells us, Aristotle determined there were three types of friends you will meet in life:
1. Friendships of utility
2. Friendships of pleasure
3. Friendships of the good
But the narrator offers up a fourth type of friendship that I can’t really argue with: Friendships of history. The types of friends who you were once close with but grew in different directions; the kinds where you’re still friends who act close just because…well…because. That’s the kind of friendship on display here.
This is Jonah (Munro Chambers): He’s packing up his late parent’s house. Jonah feels like the world is constantly against him. He was never close to his parents, even though he tried to engage them in a variety of ways. He even sent them on a wine trip…where they were unceremoniously killed in a traffic accident. Oops.
This is Richard (Christopher Gray): Jonah’s best friend for years. He’s calling Jonah because he’s driving to Jonah’s parent’s house after finding a text that suggested Jonah and Richard’s girlfriend fucked each other. And he immediately punches Jonah in the face when he answers the door, resulting in a multi-room fight that’s only broken up because Richard’s girlfriend shows up and intervenes. Oops.
This is Sasha (Emily Tyra): Richard’s longtime girlfriend; or, as the narrator calls her, his longtime partner. She has a car named Ziggy Cardust and her relationship with Richard is strained because of a specific event that happened last year. She is currently trying to pull Richard off Jonah, who is now bloodied and bruised, and informs him that the text thread he saw was about Richard’s birthday gift: a harpoon. Oops.
This is our Narrator (Brett Gelman): a Ron Howard-in-Arrested-Development-style-Omniscient-God who knows everything there is to know about our terrible protagonists and slyly and darkly hilariously doles out witty bon mots about their predicament.
This is Harpoon: a movie about an item that’s not actually a harpoon, but a speargun; a movie about these three friends that’s actually not about them, but about toxic masculinity and friendships.
After this bloody dust-up, Richard feels bad and does what Richard does best. He tries to make up for his temper and constant fuck-ups by spending excessive amounts of money on his friends. Richard decides to take them out on a day cruise on his boat which is named The Naughty Buoy. Because of course it is. Once out at sea, they decide to go Even Stevens and both Jonah and Sasha get to punch Richard. Jonah hurts his wrist with his flimsy gut punch and Sasha smashes Richard’s face to the point he wants to puke. Even Stevens. Forget the past. But none of them do.
A couple weeks ago, Sasha and Jonah got into fight at a party. That fight, coupled with the text thread, digs itself into Richard’s mind so that even after they make amends, it still bothers him. See, if it’s not evident yet, Richard is that kind of rich entitled white boy who’s used to things going his way and he throws violent tantrums when they don’t. In case you somehow don’t believe it, our narrator pipes up to provide examples. And in an unfortunate moment of craziness, Checkov’s harpoon—excuse me, spear gun—goes off and pierces Jonah’s hand while Richard gets kicked in the nuts and ends up unconscious.
Obviously the three have a lot of problems they need to work out.
Long story short: the three end up at an uneasy detente that involves throwing away anything that could be used as a weapon. And then the boat won’t start. Then they look at their dwindling supplies. A small Tupperware half full of water. A rotten banana. Condiment packets.
If this seems like the majority of plot, know that this is only the first act. Writer/Director Rob Grant tackles the setup with gleeful derision and keeps the action moving quick and succinctly. He sets up the characters and their central drama and gives them enough distrust and real history that when things inevitably goes south, it does so in a very entertaining way. His dialogue is snappy and quick. It reminds me of the way characters would just ramble at each other in Seinfeld or Gilmore Girls; it’s quick and oftentimes witty and funny.
The casting of Brett Gelman, a comedian and character actor you’d recognize if you saw him or heard his voice, is pitch perfect. His derisive and witty observations of these horrible characters brings a dare-I-say meta sense of humor to the story. He infrequently breaks in to offer backstories or an incredibly hilarious and appropriate pontification on nautical superstitions. Most importantly, he firmly establishes that what we are watching is very much tongue planted in cheek.
It riffs on similar stories of friendships devolving into violence but does so in a very knowingly way. And when it gets to the bloody business of violence, it doesn’t skimp. Body parts will be pierced, sliced and exsanguinated. It’s gory and gooey in the best ways. I haven’t gleefully laughed this hard at a dark comedy in a very long time. It’s vicious and nasty in the best way.
At a brisk 82 minutes, it is paced perfectly and moves from hapless event to hapless-er event, as distrust and secrets start spilling out. It’d be viciously nihilistic if the characters weren’t so absolutely horrible people. Sasha is probably the most empathetic of the bunch and is kind of an unwitting player in these two besties’ violent games. But she isn’t completely innocent, herself. Emily Tyra plays her to deadpan perfection and completely understands the tone of the movie. The way she says “Oh. I love scotch suddenly” as it becomes their only form of sustenance or the way she brings up Life of Pi by offhandedly saying, “fucking Richard Parker” had me laughing in surprise.
At one point, Sasha tells Richard “you two deserve each other” and while it’s a throwaway line, I think she knows that, at that moment, she’s not the object of either of their desires. Once you take away all of the blood, gory and darkly comedic moments, I think Harpoon, a movie about a speargun that’s misnamed, is really about toxic masculinity. It’s about these two best friends who are probably more into each other than they are Sasha…but she is the closest either of them will ever get to each other because, again, toxic masculinity.
Ultimately in Harpoon, as in life, all of this could have been avoided if only the two men would kiss. 🤷♂️