These are delicate times for the Britcom. After the dollar-raking precedent set by The Full Monty, production companies are not being tardy in their attempts to entertain the world's masses with the humorous activities of us Brits.
Thing is, there's always the danger of bandwagon jumping and the unleashing of films that now palely imitate these greats. And while some film-makers reapply the formula, to greater or lesser success (we're talking Little Voice and Among Giants here), others shamelessly do American with British accents (viz Notting Hill, or even Virtual Sexuality). Then there's a third group, which choose to up the ante on the eccentric or plain bizarre. Hence Mark Addy's mullet and SAS fantasies in the recent The Last Yellow, and now the proudly strange Harold Smith.
Although it's presented as a '70s coming-of-age comedy, the disco/ punk proscrastinations of young Vince, and his puny efforts to cop off with Joanna, become somewhat sidelined when Harold's powers elevate him to celebrity. The modest dignity Courtenay invests Harold with sits at the heart of the film. He retains a Zen-like calm while all around him rage teenage hormones, disco dance routines, television coverage of his abilities (from Mark Fast Show Williams' Roland Thornton and scientific mania care of Joanna's nightmarishly anal dad (a magnificent Stephen Fry).
Now and then the '70s authenticity falters (Thornton is far more Jerry Springer than Michael Parkinson) and the meagre plot unravels some-what, especially with a `highly symbolic' dance routine set to a punked-up Night Fever. Yet Whatever Happened To Harold Smith? avoids the Britcom bargain bin thanks to a talented ensemble and an inventive script from young Sheffield native Ben Steiner.
With its rambunctious punk and disco trappings (a good cash-in idea), Whatever Happened To Harold Smith? contains enough humour, good performances and individuality to make it an eccentric 90-minutes-worth of entertainment.