Harry and Max

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The day after I saw “Harry and Max,” I heard a news story about Jane Carter, mother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter and his younger brother Aaron, who has attempted to follow in Nick’s pop-idol footsteps. It seems Mom has swindled money from the boys, tried to manhandle their careers and in other ways made a nuisance of herself. Fame, it seems, can do devastating things to families.

Still, the Carters have nothing on Harry and Max, pop stars and brothers who occasionally HAVE SEX WITH EACH OTHER.

Pardon the all-caps declaration, but I feel this is an important element of the film that ought to be announced up front. For once you have broached that subject in your movie, you have embarked on a path whence there is no return. Your movie cannot be “about” anything else. No matter what other events it depicts, it will forever be remembered as the movie about the gay incestuous brothers.

Harry (Bryce Johnson) is 23 and part of a still-going but slightly fading boy band. His 16-year-old brother Max (Cole Williams) has just begun a solo career that has seen some measure of success. Their father, whom they speak fondly of, is not in the picture. Mom (Michelle Phillips) is handling Max’s career, though not to Harry’s liking. Harry drinks a lot. Max is gay; Harry is not, though he has done some freelance work in that field. They pretty much have only each other for support.

There was a family trip to Bermuda some time back during which some, er, events occurred between Harry and Max. Now, on a California camping weekend filled with dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, Max brings up the subject again. It may be that one or both of the brothers is in love with the other.

Writer/director Christopher Munch, whose script reads like a tedious stage play, gets a few things right. The awkwardness of one man flirting with another, uninterested man is palpable (the awkwardness is intensified, I suspect, when the unresponsive party is one’s brother), and Harry and Max have a fraternal camaradarie that feels like the bond between real-life brothers.

Nearly everything else is wrong, though. The dialogue is either porn-film cheesy or soap-opera trite, and the performances are far from convincing. The ups and downs of the Harry/Max relationship — on again, off again, and so forth — are unlike those of a real-life relationship, and while I realize theirs is an unusual arrangement, people are still people. You don’t just suddenly stop being interested in someone; something must HAPPEN, at least internally, to motivate such a response. Yet Harry and Max go in every direction without rhyme or reason.

There’s nothing wrong with making a film on this subject, and I suppose Munch gets points for bravery. But if you’re going to bring it up, you must be prepared to deal with it, and deal with it effectively. “Harry and Max” is amateurish and doesn’t even approach doing justice to its very complicated and sensitive subject matter.

D+ (1 hr., 15 min.; Not Rated, probably R for abundant harsh profanity, some very strong sexuality, some crude sexual dialogue, a little nudity.)

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