Harry Potter Reunion Special review: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint return home, and so do we
Just like with home and family, as you grow older, you see the flaws and the terrible political stances and just the cringe photo albums, but you still look forward to visiting home. The Harry Potter reunion special is much like that.
I was seven or eight when I was first invited to a Harry Potter-themed birthday party. Over the years, I have attended several. People in my school were obsessed with Harry Potter. The cool kids had HP-merch: pencil boxes, wands, t-shirts. We stood in line early in the morning at Oxford Bookstores for the first copies of the books we had pre-ordered, and we watched the movies as soon as they released (my school even organized a screening of Goblet of Fire for us in a theatre, the week it released). We were the Harry Potter generation.
As we grew up and read more, learnt about the world and about ourselves, we realized just how problematic the Harry Potter universe really was and how problematic JK Rowling's politics had grown to be. It was one of our first attempts at understanding concepts like art vs. artist and "the death of the author". We grappled with holding on to the stories and characters that felt like home, even when we had to objectively distance ourselves from other parts of the series and the author. It wasn't easy. It made me feel like I had really grown up with the books.
This is why fans received the news of the 20th Anniversary Reunion Special for HBO Max as much with excitement and joy as with skepticism. "Does Jo (Rowling) make an appearance?" was a common question fans asked each other. (Spoiler alert: they use footage of earlier interviews with her).
How do we feel about going back to Hogwarts, or about seeing actors many of us had loved (and had massive crushes on) back on the sets, now as adults?
The thing is, Harry Potter meant so much to so many people that it's difficult for it not to become personal.
And to be fair, there were many moments where the nostalgia was overpowering. It does remind you of watching the movies for the first time or reading that scene where your favourite character dies. You feel that twinge of age when you see these adult actors- so articulate and graceful and, dare I say it, old? It's almost like the main cast is re-discovering the movies with us, and that's poignant and beautiful.
I especially liked Daniel Radcliffe's conversations with director Chris Columbus, Gary Oldman, and Helena Bonham Carter. These conversations brought out a level of comfort that was great to see and also a relationship that had previously been adult-child but now had progressed to two adults, two professionals in the same industry. The dynamics they portrayed were fabulous. Radcliffe and Oldman talk about the "Shrieking Shack" scene and the fact that Alan Rickman knew the ending though the rest of them didn't. My other favourite was when Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) spoke gushingly about his on-screen son, Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), even going on to add that "Draco was the real hero." Only Lucius Malfoy would think that!
The problem, though, is a major part of the details mentioned in the show are already available in the public domain- there's only so many times you can hear Alfonso Cuaron say that he asked the kids to write about their characters and Emma Watson wrote 12 pages and Rupert Grint didn't submit the assignment. Ok, we get it: they are Ron and Hermione! Also, it's full of actual scenes from the movies, which might add to the nostalgia element but mostly just makes the special unnecessarily long. There's also a section devoted to cast members who have passed away- which, of course, has to be there, but it's done so performatively that it appears more cringe than sincere. Same with the ending: I feel that somewhere in the middle of shooting the special, they just lost any innocence or honesty that they started with, and it just became performative and indulgent.
The idea of home and family comes up a lot in the reunion, as it did in the original series too. "We're family," the cast keeps telling each other, to a point where it just gets annoying. In fact, Columbus even says that it was his attempt during the first two movies that everyone should feel like they're a part of a family. "I wanted everyone to feel like they're home," he says.
It's interesting to me because so many people talk about the Harry Potter-universe as home- fanart, fanfiction sites, even friends. The idea of Harry Potter being akin to a home that you come back to, which is always there to welcome you- keeps coming up. And I think just like with home and family, as you grow older, you see the flaws and the terrible political stances and just the cringe photo albums, but you still look forward to visiting home at least for the weekend. (Only for the weekend?) Because how do you dismiss the fact that you grew up there and it's an invaluable part of your life? The reunion is much like that.
Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts is streaming in India on Amazon Prime Video.
Shreemayee Das is a writer and a stand-up comedian. She writes mostly on cinema and culture. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @weepli.
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