Heaven Can Wait (1978)


Heaven Can Wait tells the story of a man who gets wrongly “claimed” by his angel and has to be sent back to earth in the body of a wealthy millionaire, after his own body gets cremated.

I don’t really know what to make out of this film, honestly speaking. On one hand, I am all for the Academy going for unusual films like this. I’m damn serious when I say that it really irks me when people say things like “it doesn’t deserve the best picture nomination, it’s just a light-hearted comedy”, because you know, light-hearted films just aren’t worthy of recognition. I guess that’s why I love unique movies like Silver Linings Playbook (which admittedly isn’t flawless) and always feel happy that when the Academy chooses to nominate films and performances like that instead of the usual heavy war dramas and epics.

However…while Heaven Can Wait certainly isn’t a bad film, it did leave me wondering what is so special about it. Let me just start on the positive: it’s funny, easy to watch, and even towards the end it is actually quite moving.  However, everything about it feels so…basic. Like, you can say, “yes it is a very good and fun film that I can re-watch over and over again”, but 9 Oscar nominations? I guess that begs the question of how much is considered good enough for a best picture nomination? It varies from people to people, which is why some people just don’t think that comedy films are worthy of recognition. That being said, while watching a movie, I never ever let the awards and nominations influence my opinion it, which is why I disagree when people say that the movie sucked, especially considering that 2 war dramas were nominated the same year.  It is good for what it is, but I really feel that it is more of a nice popcorn flick than anything.

I guess even excellent comedies have something dynamic to offer, like interesting characters and themes. Heaven Can Wait is just so simple and feel-good that that’s pretty much all I have to say about it. There’s nothing particularly insightful, none of the characters are complex, and they don’t really need to be either. I guess back then, the film is more of a sentimental favourite, which is why it has garnered so much recognition with the help of the star-studded cast. However, I frankly feel that some of the nominations aren’t even that deserved, like the original score that I barely remembered. And the win for art decoration, in my humble opinion, is a bit silly. It could because of the fact that I watched Barry Lyndon not too long ago, but I didn’t find the interiors of the mansion (or the “plane” in the clouds) anything out of the world.

The same could be said for the acting nominations, although I’m a bit more forgiving in this aspect (as usual). Warren Beatty, if you recall, isn’t one of my favourite actors but surprisingly enough he was good here. He has a one-dimensional character to play, but he managed to inject his charm and charisma (unlike in Shampoo), making Joe a really likeable, funny and sweet character. And…that’s really all he is. Of course, you can argue that there is some sort of “development” in the sense that he unexpectedly fell in love with Julie Christie’s character but it isn’t anything mind-blowing. However, I think that despite the extreme simplicity of his performance, I don’t really have any huge issues with his nomination and I think that he might even have deserved it because he did carry the movie and was honestly funny at times. The same can be said for Jack Warden, who even managed to add a quiet sadness into his last scene that actually stayed with me. The one that I really didn’t get is Dyan Cannon’s nomination. She plays the neurotic, murderous and alduterous wife of the millionaire, and that’s really all she is. You know nothing about her character and her motivations, other than the fact that she simply wants her husband dead and is constantly on the edge, screaming and shrieking, accidentally dropping and breaking things etc. It’s not that she’s bad, and I get that she’s there for comic relief (although I didn’t find it particularly funny), but her character feels more like a caricature more than anything else and her performance is really just serviceable. Just look at Terri Garr in Tootsie a few years later and you get what I mean. I even think that Julie Christie would have been worthier of the nomination , even though she didn’t have the most complex character ever. Her character just feels more realized and complete, although her motivations, like when she falls in love with Beatty’s character, is a bit unbelievable. By the way, it’s interesting to notice the similarities between the two roles of these ladies and that of the two nominated Tootsie ladies, who gave better performances with better written characters.

At the end of the day, Heaven Can Wait is a nice, sentimental film that I had fun watching. My post is a bit sparse, but that’s because I really couldn’t find anything outstanding to write about. I’m not saying that it is a bad film, just nothing overly amazing or special. 3.5/5.


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