Tag Archives: Andrew McCarthy

Heaven Help Us (1985, Michael Dinner)

In its hundred minute run time, Heaven Help Us does a number of things well. It’s beautifully edited, photographed, directed, acted. Charles Purpura’s screenplay offers a number of fantastic scenes, which director Dinner does a great job with. Overall, however, the screenplay is where there’s a significant problem. The film doesn’t have an ending and its lack of an ending just draws attention to the (easily overlooked) previous plotting deficiencies.

The film is so beautifully constructed in the first act, it gets by on that narrative goodwill and the performances all the way until the finale. Andrew McCarthy is the ostensible lead, the new kid at a Catholic high school in 1965 Brooklyn. His parents have died, he’s living with his sympathetic but awkward grandparents and his understandably upset little sister (Jennifer Dundas). He meets all the kids at school, then he meets a girl (Mary Stuart Masterson). They have a wonderfully dreary teen romance. Masterson is phenomenal, McCarthy is good.

Except it’s like Dinner realized McCarthy was too passive, so he gives Kevin Dillon a lot to do as the lovable bully. Dillon has all the Catholic school shenanigans (bullying, talking back to the priests, confession consulting, trying to corrupt a girl). Dinner and photographer Miroslav Ondríce give the school location enough personality the occasional diversions are all right. But, narratively speaking, Heaven Help Us points at Chekov’s gun only to reveal Greedo shoots first–it’s unclear if the film is hurrying to wrap up or if they just didn’t know what else to do with it.

Because part of the film’s charm is its scope. Dinner and Ondríce do a lot with a limited number of locations, a limited number of angles. They recreate 1965 Brooklyn through intelligent framing, with Stephen A. Rotter’s editing implying a lot of the rest. Rotter’s editing is excellent throughout the film, from the very first sequence.

The film isn’t happy. It’s often funny–there are the hijinks after all and McCarthy and John Heard (as the new priest at the school, which seems like a great narrative device but just gets lost) are great at deadpan–but it’s sad. There’s a weight to it all. Heaven Help Us isn’t just about McCarthy and Dillon finding themselves (they don’t even have to do it themselves–the abrupt deus ex machina takes care of their problems), it really is about Catholic high school. It’s about Heard’s relationship with the headmaster (Donald Sutherland in a fun performance) and the other teachers (specifically an outstanding Jay Patterson as a vicious, cruel one). It’s about the boys growing up in this environment. Dinner takes it very seriously.

Except he’s got too much, because he’s supposed to be making this movie about Andrew McCarthy and Mary Stuart Masterson (who actually has the best story in the film). Instead, he wants to make one about pro-hippie priest John Heard bucking the system. But then he goes ahead and makes one about Dillon.

It’s a mess, but a successful one. Until the third act, all of Dinner and Purpura’s tangential moments work out, like Wallace Shawn’s hilarious monologue on lust.

Heaven Help Us is a fine film, but Dinner had all the pieces–Masterson, McCarthy, Heard, Ondrícek, Rotter, composer James Horner–to make a truly excellent one.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Dinner; written by Charles Purpura; director of photography, Miroslav Ondrícek; edited by Stephen A. Rotter; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Molly; produced by Dan Wigutow and Mark Carliner; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Michael Dunn), Mary Stuart Masterson (Danni), Kevin Dillon (Rooney), Donald Sutherland (Brother Thadeus), John Heard (Brother Timothy), Jay Patterson (Brother Constance), Malcolm Danare (Caesar), Stephen Geoffreys (Williams), Christopher Durang (Priest), Dana Barron (Janine), Yeardley Smith (Cathleen), Jennifer Dundas (Boo), Kate Reid (Grandma) and Wallace Shawn (Father Abruzzi).


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Mannequin (1987, Michael Gottlieb)

When Mannequin is at its best, it makes one forget about its worst. There’s a lot of weak writing–and some strong writing–and director Gottlieb is terrible with actors. What’s so strange about his inability to direct them (most visible with Carole Davis) is how well other performances turn out. Both James Spader and G.W. Bailey are playing, at best, thinly written buffoon roles, but both of them are entirely committed and it leads to some successes.

The film gets off to a rocky start–after a nice animated opening credits sequence–because Gottlieb can’t find his narrative distance. Lead Andrew McCarthy often seems like he’s waiting for some kind of direction, not getting any, then proceeding ahead. Without Gottlieb getting any better, the film gets comfortable pretty soon after Kim Cattrall reappears–she’s McCarthy’s mannequin (who only he can see).

Like Mannequin needs any explanation.

There are a number of montages, which are usually successful thanks to Tim Suhrstedt’s photography and Sylvester Levay’s music. It helps McCarthy and Cattrall are, if not actually having fun, giving the impression of it. The film never finds a tone, which doesn’t help the actors, but they muddle through. Gottlieb seems like he wants it to be realistic, but it’s absurd in concept and his execution.

Estelle Getty also suffers from Gottlieb’s direction, but she’s still likable. Meshach Taylor starts as a caricature but soon becomes a reliable sidekick to McCarthy.

The leads’ chemistry and sincerity–and Levay’s music–carry the picture.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Gottlieb; written by Edward Rugoff and Gottlieb; director of photography, Tim Suhrstedt; edited by Frank E. Jimenez and Richard Halsey; music by Sylvester Levay; production designer, Josan F. Russo; produced by Art Levinson; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Andrew McCarthy (Jonathan Switcher), Kim Cattrall (Emmy), Estelle Getty (Claire Timkin), James Spader (Richards), G.W. Bailey (Felix), Carole Davis (Roxie), Steve Vinovich (B.J. Wert), Christopher Maher (Armand), Phyllis Newman (Emmy’s Mother) and Meshach Taylor (Hollywood Montrose).


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Weekend at Bernie’s (1989, Ted Kotcheff)

What’s most admirable about Weekend at Bernie’s, outside the acting, has to be the narrative structure. The first third takes place before the titular weekend, establishing all the characters, then the rest of it takes place over a twenty or so hour period.

Robert Klane’s script changes gears during the film’s final third too. Instead of relying on jokes, he and director Kotcheff go for morbid sight gags. They might be the best jokes in the film, but they’re rather cheap. The acting’s still good for these parts, however, and there’s still François Protat’s gorgeous photography. Protat makes Bernie’s feel like a vacation at the beach; there’s even some cloudy shots inferring the passage of time. They might be unintentional, but they work great.

As for the acting… Catherine Mary Stewart has the film’s most “real” part. She’s Jonathan Silverman’s love interest and finds herself surrounded by the lunacy. Silverman’s sturdy and likable in the ostensible lead role, but Andrew McCarthy’s a lot funnier as his obnoxious sidekick.

Terry Kiser plays Bernie, both alive and dead. If you don’t know the film’s concept, it’s very high brow. Silverman and McCarthy escort their dead boss around a vacation island, pretending he’s alive. Anyway, Kiser’s great in both stages, but as the corpse… he’s really impressive.

As far as supporting performances, Don Calfa’s really good. The rest are fine. Except Catherine Parks; she could be a lot better.

Bernie’s is not a smart comedy. It’s a dumb one with some smart parts.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ted Kotcheff; written by Robert Klane; director of photography, François Protat; edited by Joan E. Chapman; music by Andy Summers; production designer, Peter Jamison; produced by Victor Drai; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Jonathan Silverman (Richard Parker), Andrew McCarthy (Larry Wilson), Catherine Mary Stewart (Gwen Saunders), Don Calfa (Paulie), Louis Giambalvo (Vito), Catherine Parks (Tina), Gregory Salata (Marty) and Terry Kiser (Bernie Lomax).


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