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Harry Styles is not a bad actor, just a bad conversationalist

Somewhere in the middle of the disastrous and gossip-ridden ad campaign for the Olivia Wilde movie do not worry honeya short clip a scene between Harry Styles and Florence Pugh was published, along with a striking profile of Styles in Rolling Stone magazine. But the lengthy profile and striking cover photograph were largely overlooked amid the internet referendum on the clip, sparking discussions about the quality of the 28-year-old pop star’s performance. Film Twitter mocked him mercilessly. His army of stans gathered in defense of him. As you can imagine, it went well.

Harry Styles isn’t the first singer, or athlete, or wrestler, or whatever, to bring his popularity to film acting, and then he gets some harsh criticism. But the combination of her extreme fame, her starring role in the film, and her starring role in the backstage drama (she began dating Wilde on set, which reportedly triggered a fight between Wilde and Pugh) ratcheted up the pressure and increased the public interest. . Suddenly, it seemed like a matter of international significance: Can Harry Styles act?

Now we can enjoy another round of this debate with the release of the queer drama. my police, which debuted in US theaters on October 21 and is coming to Amazon Prime Video on November 4. do not worry honey, this is a modest and sober film, not to say quite gloomy. If Styles wasn’t in it, he wouldn’t be worth a second look. But it is, so my police he has been caught up in the maelstrom of Styles’ fame and the movie world’s resistance to it.

While both films build on the considerable appeal of looking at Harry Styles dressed in a dapper suit from the 1950s, my police It is a better showcase for your talents. Styles plays Tom, a police officer from Brighton, on England’s south coast, in the 1950s, when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. He woos teacher Marion (Emma Corrin) and couples with museum curator Patrick (David Dawson). Through a framing device set in the 1990s, with all three characters played by older actors, and through a change in time and perspective at the midpoint, the film coyly reveals Tom’s troubled relationship with Patrick. and with his own sexuality, and the sad outcome. of this little love triangle.

says a lot about my policeThe wary sexual politics that even the film’s nominally more contemporary and enlightened setting dates back to the ’90s. Screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) and director Michael Grandage (Genius), from a Bethan Roberts novel, just seem to want to wallow in the repression of the past, complete with tasteful melancholy. This is an exchange for a certain type of prestigious British production, the best example being the heartbreaking Merchant-Ivory film. What’s left of the day. my police follow the template carefully. He might hit it off with the older crowd at the morning screening, though it’s hard to imagine Harry Styles’ Gen Z fanbase connecting with anything other than the decorous sex scenes.

As young Tom, Styles is handsome, charming, and goofy in a way that works. The camera loves him and his fantastic, swirling quiff of hair. He also has a magnetism on screen that goes beyond his good looks: there is something very visible and readable about him, an endearing directness and innocence without which Tom’s closet denial, and the way he uses Marion, might seem cold or cynical. It’s a great part, with moments of emotional intensity, but Tom’s confusion and repression are always visible, which suits Styles well.

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like jack in do not worry honey, the script’s twists and turns require Styles to make sense of his character’s hidden layers, multiple personalities, and dark impulses. These chameleon changes are beyond him, which left him at sea in that movie. As an actor, he is likely to find more suitable expression in roles where his heart is permanently on his sleeve.

That doesn’t mean he’s bad at acting. In fact, used carefully, its charming lack of depth can be a huge asset. Just look at his scenes in Christopher Nolan Dunkirk. The 2017 film was Styles’ first acting job, but while his role is small, he has yet to deliver some of the film’s biggest emotional beats: furiously trying to eject a silent soldier from a sinking ship after hitting realizing that he might not be English, and cowering ashamed by the hostile reception, he hopes that Britain’s defeated forces will meet him on his return home. In the first of these scenes, his naked desperation is terrifying; in the second, he is pitiful. On both occasions, the public is there with him.

But Styles lacks a very important part of an actor’s skill set, which wasn’t as apparent in Dunkirk, but it’s painfully exposed in his two recent films. He just isn’t very good at talking.

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It is not that it is not clear or difficult to understand. Quite the contrary. It has a curiously deliberate, childlike cadence, where each syllable seems to carry equal weight. He sounds to everyone like a 12-year-old reading aloud in class. His speech pattern is aggravated by his North West English accent (he grew up in Cheshire, south of Manchester), with its prolonged vowel sounds. He’s a clumsy manner of speaking and leads to some unintentionally funny line readings, often at the worst possible times, when he’s working his hardest emotionally. In a crucial scene of my police, turns to Marion, who is discovering the truth of her relationship with Patrick, and yells, “You have a dirty mind!” She somehow comes off as smug and campy, and elicited a huge derisive laugh from the audience at the screening I attended.

Dunkirk: soldiers sitting on the beach, including Harry Styles on the left

Harry Styles (left) in Dunkirk.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures
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This could be the real reason why viewers of the do not worry honey clip struggled to understand what accent he was looking for, when it’s just his natural accent. (Though it’s funny that the movie has to build an intricate in-universe reason for him to have it.) Neither speech seems to sound completely natural coming out of Styles’ mouth. It’s like he’s learning to speak from first principles. Each line sounds like a line.

This may seem like a fatal flaw for an actor, but verbal cadence is a skill that can be taught much more easily than holding the camera’s gaze or the audience’s sympathy. Styles can do both better than many other people who work in the field. With work, and through collaborations with directors who can make him relax and be himself, as Nolan clearly did, he could still be a movie star.

Marvel Studios certainly looks forward to it. eternalThe mid-credit scene revealed Styles’ casting as Eros aka Starfox, Thanos’ easygoing playboy brother. His muddled, leaden delivery of his few lines, and the terrible American accent he employs for them, make Starfox’s inclusion in future MCU movies seem like a liability. But before he opens his mouth, as he paces the frame with a wry half-smile and a twinkle in his eye, there’s a momentary burst of irresistibly nonchalant star power that he has onstage, but that none of his others usually do. . Serious film roles to date have let him show. If only he could untie his tongue, he could be charming.

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