It can be pretty hard to act when your co-star is invisible. Somehow James Stewart makes it work. Harvey is, and always will be, my favourite film, based solely on Stewart’s acting.
Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a friendly and awkward man who’s best friend is a 6 foot, three-and-a-half-inch tall rabbit. Harvey is also invisible to the audience. Elwood and Harvey’s friendship seems harmless enough, but Elwood’s sister, Veta, thinks otherwise.
News of her brother’s interesting friend, and the amount of time he spends drinking in pubs spread through the town. Veta believes her reputation and her daughter’s chance of a suitable marriage are on the rocks.
So, Elwood’s sister and niece plan a way to be rid of Harvey once and for all, but lands themselves in trouble instead. This classic farce film is a wonderful and heartwarming adventure, teaching us to accept eccentricities when they aren’t hurting anyone and not to let our vanity cause rifts in relationships.
We never see or hear Harvey during the film. Stewart acts to empty space. But while it sounds silly, Stewart’s talent as an actor means he plays the part with empathy and understatement, bringing a maturity to the role that adults and children alike can appreciate. Through the way Stewart acts, you believe Harvey is there. It doesn’t take as long as you would think to suspend disbelief, and soon embrace the warmness that Harvey brings to the table. The film descends into chaos, but Harvey and Elwood show the most stability and happiness.
My only negative with the film is the farcical bits in the middle can feel a little too hectic. The pace is a little too fast in places, and the acting is a bit unpolished. However, the calm and laid-back Elwood (and the talent of James Stewart) brings the film back down to earth.
While all is kicking off with Veta, Elwood is looking for a missing Harvey. The sadness and hope in Elwood’s eyes while his friend is AWOL puts you onto Elwood’s side, and really makes you root for him. Being as this is in an era where hiding eccentric, special needs or mentally ill family members was common, it’s an interesting take on mental illness and how they come to embrace him, especially for the 1950s.
The film gives a fascinating look into the life of a man who is actually far saner and happier than those who followed the rules of society. Harvey is a feel-good film which always leaves you smiling. Plus, it’s a brilliant reminder of how talented James Stewart is.
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