' ' Cinema Romantico: Friday's Old Fashioned: Made In Heaven (1987)

Friday, August 02, 2013

Friday's Old Fashioned: Made In Heaven (1987)

Heaven in Alan Rudolph’s kinda romantic comedy, a heaven that looks like an uncomfortable cross between 1950’s Hill Valley and The Barracks on “Lost”, might appear as a place quite indicative of its name to the untrained eye. After all, by simply imagining something, it is. Imagine a cup of perfectly roasted Intelligentsia Coffee and bam! You’re holding it. Imagine seeing Janis Joplin live at Monterey Pop and boom! You’re watching it. Heck, in this heaven you might even meet an angel reminiscent of Charlotte Blackwood and fall in love because yes! You can fall in love in heaven!

Here’s the rub. Heaven is built around reincarnation. You get passed through the pearly gates, you chill for a little while – maybe six hours, maybe six hundred years – and then you are re-circulated through Earth based upon your previous Earthly go-arounds and your time in Heaven. Which is all well and good……unless you’re in love with an angel reminiscent of Charlotte Blackwood. This is because you get reincarnated at different times. So she goes now and you have to wait until who knows when and, well, when the hell (pardon my French) are you ever going to see each other again?

Hey! God! Some of us don’t get the girl on Earth, now you’re telling me I might not even get the girl in Heaven? When do I get her? When I achieve nirvana?!

It’s 1957 and Mike Shea (Timothy Hutton), just spurned by his girlfriend, sets forth on a cross-country trek to California. Instead, he stops to save a few people from drowning and winds up drowned himself. He enters Heaven, is greeted by his Aunt and learns the lay of the celestial land. He encounters Annie (Kelly McGillis), a new soul, born in heaven. He falls for her and she for him. Like any number of rom coms this whole falling in love bit seems woefully underdeveloped and unconvincing but, hey, remember, if you imagine, it is. So maybe Mike and Annie just imagined being married.

Alas, just because it’s paradise doesn’t mean all is peachy keen. Annie is dispatched to Earth in order to be reborn as a baby. Mike – and I have to say, I’m on his side here – finds this all a bit unfair. Thus, he barters with Emmett, a raspy, cigarette-smoker, suggesting what might happen if a member of the Algonquin Roundtable was in charge of Heavenly operations, to be redistributed to Earth ahead of schedule. (Emmett is played by Debra Winger. This floored me. As the film unfolded I swear I had no idea it was Ms. Winger. In fact, the first thing I did after it ended was check the IMDB page because I wanted to confirm my suspicion that the part was played by the guy who played the snooty Maitre’d at Chez Luis in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Nope. It was Debra Winger. Which simply proves she can do anything.)

Reluctantly, Emmett agrees, but explains the situation. Mike has until the age of 30 to find Annie. If he doesn’t, he and she are doomed to unhappiness. Never mind that this simply reinforces the stereotypes about the dreadfulness of turning 30, this is a most convenient way to provide a film theoretically centered around eternity with (criticism buzzword!!!) stakes.

So, “Made In Heaven” transitions to Earth where upon rebirth Mike – who becomes Elmo – and Annie – who becomes Ally – essentially have their memories erased and don’t recall their one true love from above. The film follows their new lives through the sixties and seventies and up to the eighties.

Annie/Ally lives a traditional kinda life, going to school, getting a job, getting married, getting divorced, so on, so forth. Mike/Elmo becomes a drifter in jaunty hats and, thus, has the more interesting storyline of the two. An encounter with his original parents suggests a welcoming spiritual kinship that cuts through any and all reincarnation, an idea I quite liked. An encounter with a deranged vamp, played by an uncredited and wonderful Ellen Barkin, who seems shipped in from a different, wilder film, briefly befriends Mike/Elmo and convinces him to rob Tom Petty (no, really). Being me, I urged Mike/Elmo to say tally-ho to Ellen Barkin but it was not to be. Perhaps their paths will cross again in their 222nd lives?

No, we are on a collision course with the inevitable, and the lyrical way it goes about getting there, suggesting a faith that the universe will see things through, is refreshing. And perhaps that is precisely why in the end I felt so un-refreshed. So they found each other. So they fell back in love. One will pass on sooner than the other and then they’ll both be reincarnated again at separate intervals and, as it turns out, you won’t spend eternity with the ones you love the most.


No comments: