Heaven Without You No Heaven Is
This is the first movie I've watched from the Archive Collection. It's almost a polar opposite of the Criterion Collection. What happened was that Warner Bros. took a long, hard look at their catalog. Most people, you see, don't have any real interest in seeing probably 90% or better of what's in it. They [i]could[/i] do a proper DVD release of, to pick at random from the collection, [i]The Tall Target[/i], a 1951 minor noir starring Dick Powell. But it's so minor that I'd ever heard of it, and there really aren't tons of Dick Powell fans beating down the doors at Warner to get a major release for it. [i]The African Queen[/i]'s lack of release was bewildering; [i]The Tall Target[/i] would be rather more bewildering if they'd wasted a release on it. So. They know that people will keep requesting these movies from them anyway; I've owned this movie on VHS for well over ten years now, myself. What they have done is gone through all the items they have no immediate plans to release properly, slapped chapter breaks every ten minutes, and made them available for purchase on their website. More studios need to do that.
Mike Shea (Timothy Hutton) is in a bit of a rut. He's out of work. The woman he thought was his girl has agreed to marry someone else. And so he sets out to California in search of something better, as so many people have. Only he doesn't get very far before he sees that a car has gone over a bridge. He dives in to rescue the kids trapped in it. He saves them but wakes up in Heaven. His Aunt Lisa (Maureen Stapleton) takes him in and shows him around, and while he's there, he meets Annie Packert (Kelly McGillis), a soul born in Heaven. He falls in love with her, but the mysterious Emmett (Debra Winger in serious disguise) tells Mike that it's Annie's time to go to Earth and live a life there. Souls get sent back, and while Annie was born there, she is still to take a turn. Mike convinces Emmett to let him go to Earth and be born and find her. Emmett tells him that Mike, now Elmo Barnett, will have thirty years to find Annie, now Ally Chandler. If he hasn't found her by his thirtieth birthday, he will never find her, and they will be apart forever.
It is, and let's be honest with ourselves, a terrible, terrible cliché, or perhaps a string of them. I do, however, also think it's a subtle exploration of what's told to us about Heaven in a throwaway line from Annie, repeated in the book Ally will write. Whatever is good in Heaven finds its way to Earth. The shovel Mike acquires in Heaven, churned out by his subconscious, does not necessarily mean a shovel, Emmett tells him. In Heaven, Mike's shovel means that he wants to build a house of his own in the middle of nowhere and give it an unattractive colour. However, Emmett suggests that it might not even be a shovel. He mentions guitar, but the end of the movie is about Elmo and a trumpet. Further, Mike leaves Heaven on a quest, and Elmo is restless. No, I wouldn't want to stay in the life into which Elmo is born, either, but he tells Friendly Truck Driver Neil Young that he doesn't know where he's going. He joins the Army, and he's still just rambling after that. Emmett's right; Elmo isn't really looking. But he's not exactly holding still, either. Just going in circles.
I'm not particularly sold on the visuals of Heaven as shown here. Heaven has a certain late-'80s colour palette I think would get on my nerves after a few days, much less a thousand years. When Mike is building his house, he only chooses bold colours which don't suit a house much at all. I mean, I like the blue he considers, but not on a house, and especially not on that type of house. I like the cheerful British guy (I assume he's supposed to be British, though no accent) who invites Mike and Guy (Willard E. Pugh) to tea at one point, and I like that he still seems to be wearing the same kind of clothing he did in life, or at any rate has chosen clothing from an era other than the ones during the movie's chronology. But the '80s were part of a fairly narrow span of time where you wouldn't just find Aunt Lisa's art in offices or hotel rooms or other places where something colourful but neutral is needed.
Of possible interest is that Neil Young, in the end credits, gets billing over Timothy Hutton. This makes no sense to me, and IMDB has wisely corrected this, properly burying him under many people whose characters were more important to the story. (In particular, Ann Wedgeworth gives a touching performance as Mike's mother.) There is also Tom Petty, surly and drawling as Stanky. (His foil in the sequence is Lucille, played by an uncredited Ellen Barkin.) Ric Ocasek refuses to fix Elmo's car on the grounds that Elmo can't pay him. There are several random musicians or relatives thereof with cameos--and Gary Larson, apparently, though I didn't recognize him. I don't know. Maybe it's that I've never been a visual artist, but I was much more interested in the music. The soundtrack is well worth checking out--if, I suppose, you can find it. And the reason the theme song, "We've Never Danced," is so beautiful is that it's written by Neil Young and sung by Martha Davis, who has a better voice.