Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Places in the Heart (1984)

If a film follows a standard formula to a T, does that mean that the film is bad? This is the question that I ask of Places in the Heart, a by-the-numbers drama from 1984 that, with everything against it, I really did enjoy.
The movie tells the story of Edna Spalding (Sally Field, who won her second Oscar for this film), a Depression-era housewife in rural Texas. When her husband is accidentally shot and killed by a drunk, she's left with a difficult situation: she has to pay for her property, but she can't afford to. Against the odds and social conventions, she teams up with a wanderer (Danny Glover) and the blind Mr. Will (John Malkovich) to continue farming cotton in order to pay her mortgage.
Glover and Field
Written and directed by Kramer vs. Kramer's Robert Benton, this is a social-issue drama tailor-made for Oscar contention. There are plenty of references to the Ku Klux Klan, and nobody but big-hearted Edna could possibly reach out and help a black man and a blind veteran. There's a lot of schmaltz going on here, but the actors sell it as such, which elevates it past Lifetime movie status. And the performances are very good. I've never really thought much of Field, but she sold me that she could act here. And Malkovich is terrific, even though he gets a little bit hammy in some scenes. Glover is fine, but he can't take his character too far; he's the "magic Negro" in this story, and the film doesn't allow him to break out of that archetype. Also helping the film is a pretty tense storm sequence, which provided some unexpected tension and was terrifically executed by Benton.
Is it cheesy? Yes. Is it schmaltzy? Yes. Is it formulaic? Without a doubt. But sometimes, that works. Places in the Heart is a factory-standard Best Picture drama, but don't think that means its bad: its surprisingly better than you'd think.
Fun fact: Benton co-wrote the screenplay for 1978's Superman, as well as 1967's Bonnie and Clyde.
Oh, and Terry O'Quinn is in this movie. You know him as Locke from Lost. I would include a picture of him from the film, but according to you (read: Internets), the only things he's ever done are The Stepfather and Lost. So you get this instead. You're welcome.

No comments: