HARRY POTTER AND THE ANGST OF ADOLESCENCE
Main Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Director: David Yates
I’ve spent the last six days in the studio – sunup to sundown – preparing for the rigors of my new stage production.
It’s based on Donizetti’s classic opera The Elixir of Love but that title didn’t go over well with the focus groups culled from the patrons of a Reseda strip mall. (Frankly, I don’t think any of them understood what the word elixir meant). We’re therefore going to call it Love Potion Number Ten. Apparently there were some copyright issues over using Love Potion Number Nine which is too bad as I could have absolutely slayed the title song if we’d interpolated it into the score. Anyway, the tagline is going to be “Vicki Lester’s dialing it up to ten!”. That should get people interested. I ran into my dear friend Nigel Tufnel at The Ivy the other day and told him my news and he thinks he may be able to get the producers to go all the way up to eleven.
I’ve been sent some preliminary design sketches by DeWolfe, the great impresario who is our lead producer. While the setting is modern day DC, the set is very German expressionistic with cables and platforms everywhere all set with thousands of LED lights and screens that can quickly change the location from the Library of Congress to the Supreme Court chambers in mere seconds. I am especially pleased with the pink pastel look for my big second act tap number set in the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival. It’s going to be supplemented with the largest petal drop the English speaking stage has ever seen.
As there’s some sort of law written up somewhere that we’re to rest on the seventh day, I decided to take the day off. I called up Captain Drew and told him to hightail it down to the marina and fire up the yacht so that Normy and I could take a little cruise down the coast in order to relax and stretch out some sore muscles in a fine sea breeze. Soon, the two of us were on deck, hoisting mugs of hot cider spiked with spiced rum, and braving a light chop as the boat headed south for the quaint little sea side village of Tijuana. As it would take several hours for us to get there, and it was bit nippy for sunbathing on the deck, Normy and I decided to take in a film in the ship’s lounge during our voyage. Despite my seventeen pieces of matching Louis Vuitton that I had readied for our day trip, I had forgotten to pack my ‘To View’ pile of DVDs so we were forced to search through the cushions until we discovered a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix which had been left behind some years ago. Having nothing better to do, we popped it into the machine to visit again with our old friends from Hogwarts.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, from 2007, is the fifth of the eight films in the saga of the boy wizard, a character who conquered all media in the early years of the 21st century. In this installment, Harry has hit the stage of adolescence known and dreaded by all adults. The ‘nobody understands me and you’re all against me’
phase caused by a combination of raging hormones and the stress of moving from child to adult social roles. As the film opens, suburban Little Whinging is under a heat wave. Our hero Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), struggling to cope with his emotions after witnessing the death of his friend Cedric (Robert Pattinson in footage left over from the previous film), and his oafish cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) are attacked by an evil cross between a lamprey and the ghost of Christmas yet to come known as a dementor and Harry must use magic to save them. Unfortunately, magic by students outside the relative safety of Hogwarts school is verboten and soon Harry finds himself having to defend his actions at the Ministry of Magic. Allowed to return to school together with his pals Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), they find that the Minister (Robert Hardy) wants to exert control over the school and headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) for pushing the heretical idea that the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has indeed returned to corporeal form. This takes the form of a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), an authoritarian wrapped in pink suits and angora who resembles nothing so much as a propagandist henchman to a more and more unbalanced superior.
Her forbidding of any practical learning of defensive magic leads Harry and his friends to band together to teach themselves the finer points of the patronus charm and other useful jinxes and disarming spells in a secret society they name ‘Dumbledore’s Army’. This begins a game of cat and mouse between Umbridge and our heroes that eventually involves a girlfriend for Harry, Cho Chang (Katie Leung), Harry’s arch nemesis Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) who is charged with protecting Harry’s mind against Voldemort’s ESP, various heroic witches and wizards who belong to the titular Order and who stand against Voldemort and the blindness of the ministry, and a somewhat simple giant named Grawp who is played by a lot of CGI. Eventually most of the cast assembles for a showdown in the bowels of the ministry where Harry suffers yet another painful loss at the hands of the evil Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter in her usual crazy harridan mode). A resolution, of sorts, is reached and we all get a breather before the next film.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was the first of the saga directed by David Yates, who went on to helm the final three films in the series as well as the prequel of sorts Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which came out this past year. Yates was an unusual choice. The first four films had been directed by individuals with solid film careers and some experience with Hollywood style budget. By contrast, at the time of his addition to the franchise, Yates was best known for episodic British television. He acquitted himself relatively well, his biggest mistake being jettisoning some of the novel’s complexity for more traditional heroic narrative forms. In J. K. Rowling’s original book series, this is the longest of the stories and Harry Potter is portrayed in a rather realistic fashion. Adult readers want to throttle him half the time due to his moping around and his continuing bouts of self-pity and his wallowing in his own misery. Anyone who has ever been fifteen or raised a child through adolescence knows how horrible kids are at this age and Rowling was not afraid to make Harry somewhat unlikable in the novel’s early stages, becoming more resolute as he must deal with the challenges posed by the authoritarian influence of Umbridge and the strange distancing of his hero and mentor, Dumbledore. By keeping Harry plucky and heroic throughout the film, something is lost and the film is the lesser for it. I’m sure the studio had its reasons for wanting it to follow formula but I wish it could have delved a bit more into Harry’s pain.
It’s possible that Daniel Radcliffe was not yet a good enough actor to convey Harry’s emotional turmoil or that the
choices of screenwriter Michael Goldenberg in adapting the novel weren’t always the wisest. This is the only one of the films not written by Steve Kloves (he needed a break after years of unrelieved work) and I think that is part of the issue. Kloves has a way of distilling the essence of the original stories into his screenplays, even when characters or incidents must be cut for time or pacing. This one seems to have been adapted from the Cliff Notes version of the book rather than the book itself. This makes it one of the weaker entries in the series.
There are joys to be had here. Yates uses a number of montage sequences to collapse time and these are masterfully staged and paced. The tremendous cast of veteran British character actors inhabit their roles with aplomb and it’s fun catching up with such memorable folk as Mad Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) and Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). Yates also peppers the movie with exquisite little moments, often involving minor characters which remain long after the film is over. The courtroom testimony of dotty Arabella Figg (Kathryn Hunter), Professor Flitwick’s (Warwick Davis) reaction to fireworks and flight, and the daffy Luna Lovegood’s (Evanna Lynch) reaction to everything from invisible horse things to missing shoes. Yates seems to have learned a lot from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix as he was able to fix most of the issues of cliché and over simplification in later entries in the series.
It’s not a film that stands well on its own, but if you’re having a Harry Potter marathon, you need to make sure it’s in its proper place in the sequence. But you can take your bathroom break during it without missing a whole lot.
Rusty swing set. Judicial robes. China kitten plates. Upset Emma Thompson. Wall breaking. Prophecy chasing. Thestral flying. Gratuitous bicycle bell. Centaurs on the warpath. Collapsing shelves. Arch of death.
photos by Tanemori, DavidDjJohnson, Marie-Lan Nguyen, Pat Dolan