Director Bob Byington talks about his working method.
Harmony and Me wins People's Choice Award for feature film at the 32nd Starz Denver Film Festival.
The only American film to have its world premiere at New Directors/New Films.
Break-ups are never easy, especially when your ex-girlfriend checked out several months before the official end.
Rice is putting together an interesting film career.
Michael Moore hearts Austin and two of its funniest filmmakers, Bob Byington and Ben Steinbauer.
Michael Moore awards Byington Festival Prize
Grant goes toward getting movie off the ground.
The Deliciously Cracked Comedies of Bob Byington
if I were to pick one indie film of the past year that I would jump at the chance to see over and over again, it would be Harmony and Me, a film in which every single scene manages to work, while being woven into an intricate medley of idiosyncratic humor.
Bob Schneider singled out in Cinematical.
San Francisco Chronicle profiles Bob Byington.
Harmony at SF Indie
Bob Byington talks to LA WEEKLY about Harmony's rocky path
Bishop Allen lead singer talks about acting vs. singing
“Represents much of what is wonderful and fresh about the recent wave of ultra-low-budget American independent filmmaking. ”
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"Harmony and Me," written and directed by Austin-based Bob Byington, represents much of what is wonderful and fresh about the recent wave of ultra-low-budget American independent filmmaking.
Though at first seemingly offhanded to the point of haphazard, the film reveals itself to have a finely tuned construction and acute sense of rhythm and character, hitting its marks just so for beats of laugh-out-loud comedy and subtle, unexpected emotional clarity.
Harmony (Justin Rice) has recently broken up with his girlfriend Jessica (Kristen Tucker), but as he will tell anyone of his broken heart, "she hasn't finished the job, she's still at it." Byington coaxes a delicately spirited performance from Rice, and makes space for an array of supporting characters played by a crew of independent film personalities including Kevin Corrigan, Alex Karpovsky and Nick Offerman.
Any filmmaker who uses Jonathan Richman's song "Government Center" as a running theme obviously knows a thing or two about the collision of joyous whimsy and bittersweet melancholy and Byington, working with editor Frank Ross, fashions the film into something of an accidental musical.
Throughout, Harmony is taking piano lessons and working on a song called "Finishing Touches," scenes that are in their way every bit as affecting as the songwriting sequences in "Once." As well, the film's unlikely centerpiece is a wedding singer (Bob Schneider) inappropriately directing a love song to the bride. (The uproariously slow-burning groom is played by Byington himself.)
After a successful festival run, Byington is distributing "Harmony" himself. It is perhaps a bit of a stretch (but not by much) to think of the film as something of a metaphor for the contemporary state of independent film, as "Harmony and Me" winds up being not about triumph or winning but about perseverance, acceptance and finding contentment with where you're at.
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Austin, Texas, has never looked more unlovely, and its residents more clueless, than in "Harmony and Me," a funny, wry mumblecore comedy by Bob Byington. Remember Richard Linklater's "Waking Life," about a curious soul who explored Austin encountering one fascinating and original person after another? Harmony, the hero of this film, doesn't know a single fascinating person and never visits a part of town that doesn't look like an anonymous suburb.
You know what mumblecore is, don't you? That's an imperfect term for a genre of imperfect low-budget films in which mostly young characters wander through unsatisfactory lives characterized by alienation, boredom and angst. They usually don't have enough energy to be angry-- and besides, who would care? They do, however, have dialog that's nicely sardonic, as when Harmony observes "I have a pretty strict policy about high fives" and "I grew up with limited access to mental health."
Harmony is played by Justin Rice as a low-energy version of Michael Cera. He looks as if he wishes he had the strength to seem as tragic as he thinks he probably is. He's been dumped by the pretty Jessica (Kristen Tucker), who confides to a friend she was able to shorten the grieving period after the breakup of their romance by starting early to grieve, at its halfway point. How can you grieve the end of something that hasn't ended? Preventative grieving, maybe it's called. Maybe grieving ahead for a rainy day.
In his low-key, absent way, Harmony has an action-packed life. He gets fired from his vague software job after unwisely calling his boss's father a pedophile during the graveside service. He has a medical emergency during which nurses place bandages on his head for practice. He attends his brother's wedding. He's lectured on marriage by a buddy whose wife's face confirms our suspicion that he's the husband from hell.
Mostly, Harmony mopes. Remember that old Irish crime, "Mopery with intent to gawk?" Harmony mopes and gawks. His life has been destroyed by Jessica, he moans. She is perfect. How could she treat him this way? His pal consoles him: He's only about an 8. For a 10, you have to go to Lebanon, South America, places like that.
"Harmony and Me" has its Chicago premiere starting Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center. If I've made Harmony himself sound boring, don't assume the movie is. Bob Byington directs with an exact sense of what he wants; consider the perfect timing of his use of Harmony's mom (Margie Beegle). How she says "don't ask me" and "leave me out of it" is unreasonably funny.
“I'll wager no one in your circle is as dryly funny or spontaneously surreal as Harmony's nonsupport group.”
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By his own account, the 30-year-old Harmony (Justin Rice, looking all of 19) grew up with limited access to mental health. And for the duration of Harmony and Me, a low-fi comedy of sulks and self-pity, he will try to prove it.
A recent dumpee whose ex refers to him as the loser, Harmony wears his heartbreak like a badge and his former beloveds likeness around his neck. Thus shackled, he shuffles through the movie unloading his pain on anyone who will listen, while a clutch of quirky supporting players including his less-than-harmonious family and a breast-obsessed one-night stand (Allison Latta, terriffic) urges him to get a grip.
Written and directed by Bob Byington and produced with the help of the Sundance Institute (normally a pusher of projects no audience is likely to cut itself on), Harmony and Me unspools on unlovely video in a featureless Austin, Tex. Yet despite the films sketchy aesthetic and barely animate lead, its tone is carefully contrived: Ill wager no one in your circle is as dryly funny or spontaneously surreal as Harmonys nonsupport group.
The significance of the films music, however, may take longer to register: the awkward, fragmented and occasionally soaring sound of grief being transformed into a way forward.
HARMONY AND ME
Opens on Friday in Manhattan.
Written and directed by Bob Byington; director of photography, Jim Eastburn; edited by Frank Ross and Jacob Vaughan; production designer, Yvonne Boudreaux; produced by Kristen Tucker. At the Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, Museum of Modern Art. Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: Justin Rice (Harmony), Kevin Corrigan (Carlos), Pat Healy (Matt), Kristen Tucker (Jessica), Allison Latta (Natasha), Alex Karpovsky (Mean Man Mike) and Margie Beegle (Mom).
“...has a real sweetness and freewheeling charm thanks to Byington's script and Rice's perfectly pitched lead performance.”
“Harmony and Me is funny. The dialogue and performances are sharp and amusing.”
“Harmony is a finely tuned comedy, complete with precisely scripted jokes and comic set pieces that swerve toward the playfully perverse. ”
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Via voiceover, Harmony (Rice) announces his intention from the get-go: to catalog “two or three things happening in my life at this time, tailor-made for low-stakes dramatization.” So follows the travails of this sad-sack office drone who has been dumped by his girlfriend, Jessica (Tucker), and can’t shut up about how his former flame is “still breaking my heart—she hasn’t finished the job.” Both his friend (Corrigan) and various nemeses (Pat Healy as a skeevy boss, director Byington as a tough-love sibling) are deaf to his whines, so Harmony channels a melancholic rage into songwriting. “No one wins in love,” warns his piano teacher—which becomes painfully apparent when our hero’s obsession leads to a medical emergency.
Byington’s third movie boasts serious mumblecore credentials, thanks to indie-rocker Rice (the star of Andrew Bujalski’s seminal Mutual Appreciation) and a de rigueur shaky-cam aesthetic. But thankfully, the director has little interest in actual mumbling. Harmony is a finely tuned comedy, complete with precisely scripted jokes and comic set pieces that swerve toward the playfully perverse. A plot description does no justice to Byington’s talent for wringing fresh laughs out of previously tapped sources (who doesn’t love a good ejaculate-in-hair joke?), and even the straight-up musical interludes lend unexpected weight.—Karina Longworth
Read more: http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/film/78632/harmony-and-me-film-review#ixzz0VeUXtPaO
“it's a deliciously sharp and carefully observed study of people just like you and me in all of our various oddities.”
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There was a belief a few years ago -- as cheap cameras and Final Cut Pro gained real traction within the filmmaking community -- that we were at the dawn of a cheap indie revolution. Affordability was going to allow new talent to finally be seen and recognized. In some cases that happened, but mostly this surge in access resulted in a colossal amount of dull movies. Thankfully, a micro-budget film still punches through occasionally and restores one's faith in the premise that you don't need a huge amount of money to make a good film.
Harmony & Me is just such a film. Ostensibly about a young man dealing with the end of a romantic relationship, it's a deliciously sharp and carefully observed study of people just like you and me in all of our various oddities. Singer Justin Rice of Bishop Allen is the Harmony of the title and as the film opens we find him struggling with the loss of his girlfriend, Jessica (Kristen Tucker). He believes that she left him because he's a loser. Understand, that's not his lack of self-esteem talking; she often referred to him as a loser.
A mutual friend hilariously points it out to him at the beginning of the film. It seems that Jessica would often go out of her way to call him a loser even when the situation didn't even call for it as in, "Yeah, I'm gonna go over and see The Loser". So Harmony is naturally a bit down. The fact that he has a crappy job -- what it is is never made clear, but it apparently involves routing computer cables -- doesn't help. Ordinarily, one might expect a young, heartbroken man to turn to his family, but Harmony's is really no help. They barely seem to like him.
And that's the whole movie. We basically just follow Harmony around to various events (work, piano lessons, a friend's house, his boss's funeral) and listen to him try to work out what went wrong with his life and his girlfriend. It sounds simple -- it is simple -- but it's never simplistic or boring. Every oddball in this film feels like an actual person. Hell, given the financial restrictions of an ultra-budget film maybe some of them are! Coupled with a script that's both daffy and spot-on, each one of these characters feels alive. Really alive.
Of course, this is a movie so things can't just meander forever. A resolution is reached; Harmony finds his peace. But he finds it in a manner perfectly keeping with the film's surreal spirit (re: "surreal": rare is the film that has the line "he was a pedophile" spoken at a funeral, and the line is both correct and funny). Harmony & Me is short at 70 minutes, but that's probably the perfect time for a film as light as this. It leaves you wanting more of Harmony and the strange characters in his universe, which is high praise indeed.
“the deadpan humor flows so pleasingly along that it surmounts the self-absorption and self-pity to approach a form of music. ”
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A sad sack (Justin Rice), masochistically fixated on the woman who dumped him receives cold comfort from the assorted loonies he calls friends, family and co-workers in Bob Byington's Austin-set sophomore outing. A mumblecore film without the mumble, "Harmony and Me" eschews the fits and starts, tensions and complexities of present-tense immediacy in favor of sly, absurdist one-liners, paring everything down to comic essentials. Bristling with wry wit and peopled with a rogue's gallery of disaffected losers, this rhythmically timed (if indifferently shot) micro-budgeter could garner niche play based on its unexpected narrative intersections with current mainstream comedy.
When Jessica (Kristen Tucker, who also produced) breaks up with Harmony (Rice), she already has a head start on grieving, unlike her hapless ex, who never saw it coming.
In a plotline that has some points of contact with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," months later, sulky Harmony still wears his heart on his sleeve -- and around his neck, in the form of a locket containing Jessica's picture. He flashes this at passers-by accompanied by a clumsy bear-with-a-fish metaphor (illustrating how Jessica thoughtlessly abused his heart) that grows more lamely pathetic with each retelling.
Harmony's mother offers cryptically sarcastic advice ("find one who moves her arms and legs"), his younger brother snickers unhelpfully, his pals claim to have never known what he saw in her, and an office mate dates her.
Unfortunately, helmer Byington (who also plays Harmony's older brother) remains so locked into the main character that Harmony's egocentrism, which cuts him off from fellow humans, also limits the creative input of reliable indie regulars like Pat Healy, Kevin Corrigan and Alex Karpovsky, whose riffs are circumscribed by the careful orchestration of gags. The women in particular suffer from narrow-casting and missed opportunities: Boob-obsessed neighbor Allison Latta seems positively bursting with untapped potential.
Yet the deadpan humor flows so pleasingly along, unencumbered by the verbal meanderings characteristic of mumblecore, that it surmounts the self-absorption and self-pity to approach a form of music. Indeed, the pic could be subtitled "Make Music, Not Love." (Rice, in real life a frontman for his own band, here amateurishly dabbles in his namesake harmonies, taking piano lessons from fellow musician Jerm Pollet, with Corrigan sitting in on guitar.)
Rice, mumblecore's answer to Jean-Pierre Leaud (but without the edge), steers the pic successfully through shallow shoals of snarky humor, greatly aided by Frank Ross' to-the-bone editing but done no favors by lenser Jim Eastburn's total disregard for compositional niceties.
“Its comic voice is fresh, surprisingly nuanced and full of surprises”
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I’ve been in New York for a grand total of about two weeks in the last month and a half, so I missed most of the press screenings for New Directors/New Films, the annual co-production of MoMA and the Film Society at Lincoln Center, which opened last night. We’ll be publishing a recap of the full festival from Brandon Harris tomorrow, but I wanted to drop some notes on the one film for which I did have a chance to attend a press screening, Harmony & Me.
Written and directed by Bob Byington (his RSO: Registered Sex Offender premiered at SXSW last year and then played around the country on the Range Life tour) and edited by Frank V. Ross (Hohokam, Present Company), the film was shot in Austin and features a number of faces that will be familiar to devotees of SXSW cinema and its descendants: Justin Rice as Harmony, a “loser” who we meet mid-heartbreak at the hands of a brunette succubus (Kristen Tucker); Alex Karpovsky as a friend whose verbal abuse of his sweetly nerdy wife is played for uncomfortable laughs — and serves as a reminder to Harmony that relationships are inevitably sad and cruel as often as they’re legitimately romantic; Pat Healy as the dickish boss at Harmony’s cubicle job; Allison Latta as an outlandishly outgoing neighbor who sets her sights, against his wishes, on our retiring hero.
Harmony is the only American film world premiering at New Directors this year, and it’s an unlikely candidate for a festival that otherwise mostly cherry-picks hits from Sundance, Berlin and other major international festivals. It’s shot on video and looks like it; its barebones aesthetic serves not another socially serious work of neo-neo, nor does it really have much in common with The Unofficial Genre that Starts With “M”, other than a shaky camera and a handful of actors. If the latter type of film earned the blessing/curse of being grouped together under a name mockingly invented by a sound engineer and inspired by their common tendency towards imprecise speech, whether improvised our written for a certain kind of naturalism, Harmony definitely doesn’t fit; the last thing this is is a film about people who don’t know how to express themselves. Harmony has even reduced his story of lost love into a spiel, one which he broken-record unloads throughout the film, using the same speech to express his pain to his best friend and to his Chinese herbalist.
The film is low on incidental action — Harmony takes piano lessons, goes to work, goes bowling, goes to his brother’s wedding, accidentally runs into his ex, overdoses on a gift from her that he’s allergic to on purpose –– but each crumb dropped is essential. Harmony starts out in a bad way and only gets worse; Harmony & Me follows each step of a descent towards rock bottom that resolves in redemption, a retreat into solipsism that allows him to emerge with a song. Yes, it’s another movie where Justin Rice has romantic troubles and plays music, but it’s also a movie about how songs, or any discrete works of art, come to be, the process by which uniquely personal pain can be churned into something that gives other people pleasure. It’s an almost procedural description of the method by which an injury is turned into a gift.
All of which gives no indication of how funny much of the film is. The best way to describe Harmony & Me is as a comedy, one with as many jokes about pedophiles and stray ejaculate as moments of sad-sack bittersweetness. It’s unquestionably a film of its time, but it plays out in a key that’s less like something by Joe Swanberg than something, like, by Savage Steve Holland. And while there’s no question it lacks polish, its comic voice is fresh, surprisingly nuanced and full of surprises. If I were programming a festival called New Directors/New Films, this is the exact kind of film that I would select: raw and made mostly by friends for a song, but something like a living bookmark for talent to watch.
“Harmony and Me's sole justification for being is that it's consistently very funny.”
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Slight, indifferently shot, and entirely lacking in ballast, Harmony and Me's sole justification for being is that it's consistently very funny. Harmony (Justin Rice) has a life full of (ha!) discord; obsessing over his ex, Jessica (Kristen Tucker), he floats through a boring tech job, takes piano lessons, and generally screws around in the kind of low-stakes economic free-fall that a college town like Austin, Texas, can sustain. Harmony should theoretically be a comedy of awkwardness—it's got ugly broken marriages, pedophile jokes, and a suicide attempt—but, with hilarious dialogue, it's poised at the exact sweet spot where awkward encounters don't make the audience themselves uncomfortable, just amused. Director Bob Byington understands comic editing, cutting scenes to their essence—rarely longer than a minute—and gets the most out of a sharp cast. His film is continually quotable, from Harmony's query to a friend driving his mom's cracked-windshield minivan—"Is that like an ongoing adrenal rush of low self-esteem?"—to a morning-after exchange with a deranged neighbor. She: "You got some in my hair." He: "That wasn't unintentional." It's deceptively loose, but always on point—like Bottle Rocket, only with no visual style, stakes, tension, or real substance. Nothing wrong with that.
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