Sunday, December 25, 2022

Mr. Harrigan's Phone

Movie Name:
Mr. Harrigan's Phone
Year of Release: 2022
Director: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Jaeden Martell, Donald Sutherland, Joe Tippett, Colin O'Brien, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Frank Ridley, Peggy J. Scott, Thomas Francis Murphy, Randy Kovitz, Cyrus Arnold, Thalia Torio, Conor William Wright, Alexa Niziak, Bennett Saltzman, Daniel Reece, Dale Duko, Gregory Jensen
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Director John Lee Hancock, who most recently directed "The Little Things", is back with another Stephen King short story adaptation for Netflix (the streaming platform already has in their inventory Mike Flannagan's "Gerald's Game" and Vincenzo Natali's "In the Tall Grass"). This time around the narrative focuses on a young boy by the name of Craig. In 2003 he suffers the loss of his mother, which leaves his father quite shaken, though they both soldier on. At that time a retired billionaire who has moved to the small town where they live (2 hours outside of Boston), offers him a job which consists of reading to him three times a week, for which he'll get paid 5 dollars per session. He also gets a lottery scratch ticket every Christmas as an additional bonus. Craig keeps performing his assignment, and develops a friendship with Mr. Harrigan. 5 years go by and Craig has to change schools, as the small town where he lives doesn't have a high school. He becomes the target of a bully there, but manages to avoid trouble. He finally wins 3,000 dollars in one of the lottery tickets, and since his dad has bought him an iPhone, he decides to do the same for Mr. Harrigan. While initially resistant to the device, Mr. Harrigan succumbs to it, and Craig gives him a specific ringtone, so they can quickly recognize each other when they decide to call. Sadly Mr. Harrigan passes away, but he leaves Craig a sizable trust fund for him to go to college and start his professional career in screenwriting. While heartbroken over Mr. Harrigan's death, he still calls his phone, since he secretly placed the phone inside Mr. Harrigan's coffin. Much to his surprise, he starts receiving messages from Mr. Harrigan's phone.
"Mr. Harrigan's Phone" manages to successfully tell the story of Craig as he's growing up, particularly as he deals with the loss of one of his parents, and then of one his closest familiar presences in his life, Mr. Harrigan. John Lee Hancock slowly captures the habits these characters establish between each other, even if you gradually realize you never know much about the characters who surround Craig, including Mr. Harrigan himself, his father or even his friends and foes in high school. The narrative does allow for  Craig's journey to become more palpable, but as the deaths of those who wronged him escalate, and as the messages from an inexplicably active phone also mount, there's a sense of momentum that is crafted in the film to reveal the source of those dramatic occurrences, something that really never occurs (it's subtly hinted at of course). The problem with the film, aside from the rather thin characterization of most characters, is the fact that it ultimately promises more than it actually delivers. There's nothing wrong with being subtle with the narrative, and to John Lee Hancock's credit, he manages to create an enticing narrative where one accompanies the journey of the central character, until suddenly one realizes there isn't much more to it. The final chapter somewhat fizzles under the weight of some expectations that the narrative previously set in motion. The cast solidly brings these characters to life, particularly the always fantastic Donald Sutherland, who has great support from Jaeden Martell and Joe Tippett. The production team is equally solid, including John Schwartzman's cinematography, Javier Navarrete's score and production design by Michael Corenblith. Even if it's not memorable, it's nonetheless watchable.