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By Don R. Lewis | June 18, 2008

Remember when you were a kid and your mom would yank your ear if you stared to long at a “strange” looking person? Be it a midget or an albino or even some completely wasted guy stumbling down the street, it’s just not polite to stare at those who are different from the norm. But lets face it, even as adults when we see something odd or out of the ordinary we either gawk like a five year old or look away while every nerve sensation in your brain is screaming for you to stare. You just can’t help it. Such is the basic premise of the hilarious quirk-fest film “Happy Birthday, Harris Malden.”

The title character isn’t your ordinary oddball. Aside from leading the life of a shut-in, he’s smart and handsome and has a quick sense of humor but he has a serious personal complex. See, Harris (Gregorio) is unable to grow facial hair and is forced to paint a mustache on his face every single day and in a variety of styles. That is unless he has a big phony latex mustache plastered on. As you can see, this is a very silly film but if you give yourself over to this kind of alternate reality the gang at “Sweaty Robot” has created, you’re in for a lighthearted, funny and kind of sweet trip.

As you might have guessed from the title, “Happy Birthday, Harris Malden” takes place on and around the phony-stached Harris’s twenty-fifth birthday. His best friend in the world, Paul (Levy) has planned a big party but his new girlfriend Susan (Hagerman) wants to know why she’s not invited. After all, she and Paul are in love and thinking of moving in together. But as Paul explains, it’s complicated and in truth it is. Harris is obviously very odd and his self-absorbed brother Melvin (Cardarelli), a newly discovered male model, didn’t fall far from the nut tree. Add to that the Malden’s live with their goofy Grams (Slatin) and you have a recipe for awkwardness that Paul clearly wants to avoid bringing his only shot at normality into.

Silliness occurs as do some really nice scenes involving protecting the ones you love and issues that arise from that. And what movie wouldn’t be complete without some lessons in growing up? Yet “Happy Birthday, Harris Malden” never really gets too “on the nose” with its message. In the strange, almost parallel universe the Sweaty Robot crew has created, you just kind of figure out what they’re getting at by the end of the film. Plus, the film is really funny as long as you realize there’s a kind of straight-faced silliness to the whole affair much like the films of the Zellner Brothers or even Charlie Kaufman. If you enjoy that kind of off-the-wall humor, “Happy Birthday, Harris Malden” can’t miss.

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