Review: HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978)

By Darin Skaggs

The story to Heaven Can Wait is pretty interesting. Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty), who is destined to be the great Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, destiny changes when an angel (Buck Henry) takes him from a may be car accident up to Heaven. Upset at the mix up and finding his body has been cremated Joe asks to be put into a new body so he could get back to his team and win the Super Bowl. After much deliberation Joe chooses the body of a rich man, Leo Farnsworth, who is in the process of being drugged and murdered by his wife Julia (Dyan Connon) and Leo’s secretary Tony Abbot (Charles Grodin) who is having an affair with Julia. He convinces his old trainer Max (Jack Warden) that it is him and they begin to try and convince everyone to let old Leo on their team. The plot goes on after that which creates an odd and confusing movie including a misguided love story with Betty Logan (Julie Christie) a political activist that hates what Leo stands for, but falls for everything about Joe.

I love interpretations of Heaven and this one is no slouch. When Joe gets there the ground is covered in clouds and it is just bright enough to give off a sense of surrealism that clashes well with the otherwise grounded production design of Earth. The whole film is particularly well photographed, not so interesting instead of Heaven, which itself is still simple but that part works well. The tone is off in some places sometimes the movie wants to be slapstick, sometimes it wants to be charming romance, the whole thing just does not flow as well as it should. I am not even sure what it wants to get across. Is it a look at love? Or death? Not sure, it just seems that it is just trying to tell an interesting love tale. There is even a part where Joe, everyone thinks he is Leo, tells all his corrupt business men that what they are doing is wrong, but that also doesn’t play a big part in the film.

The main focus is on Joe and Betty, where Betty technically falls in love with three people and that is what makes this movie confusing and a mess. So Betty is mad at Leo Farnsworth. That is until he changes his ways in the board room scene, and then she became infatuated with him. After that Joe hints that he might not be Leo and she believes him, so there she is in love with Joe. Then a bunch of confusing unexplained moments occur and she falls in love with someone totally different, only it’s Joe we are looking at, but there is no remise of Joe and she doesn’t see him, only we do. I was confused at what happened and what we were supposed to get from the whole picture. This might also work if the performances were better, Christie just seems to be cashing a pay check and Beatty is a bit awkward as all around good guy Joe. Others actors are pretty good, but nothing special in this one. Heaven Can Wait is a huge mess at the end, some okay scenes here and there but this one is nothing to flip over.

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