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A New 'Wings'

[whitespace] Under Heaven
Claire Garoutte

Lifeless in Seattle: Molly Parker and Aden Young pretend to be Henry James characters moved a century forward in Meg Richman's 'Under Heaven.'

'Under Heaven' is a Gen-X take on James' 'The Wings of the Dove'

By Richard von Busack

A NIGH-homeless couple is on the splits. Buck (Aden Young) has no ambition and is drinking too much for the taste of his girlfriend, Cynthia (Molly Parker). She walks out on him and searches for a live-in job; straight away, Cynthia finds pretty and wealthy Eleanor (Joely Richardson), who has six months to live. After a fairly easy job interview, consisting mostly of matching up favorite Beatles songs, Eleanor is hired as a caretaker. In a while, Cynthia starts to miss her ex and meets him by chance at a farmer's market. Cynthia starts to scheme. Since Eleanor has no heirs, Buck might be able to seduce the moribund woman so that when she dies everything is left to him--or rather, to them. The problem is that Cynthia isn't as cold-blooded as she thinks she is; neither is Buck, who soon finds himself falling in love with the pale, gentle, patrician Eleanor.

Henry James' The Wings of the Dove is the source for director/writer Meg Richman's film, and it's unfortunate that a definitive version of this same novel came just last year. Still, Under Heaven has enough liabilities on its own that it scarcely needs comparison to any other movie. Young is an awkward, self-conscious actor. Even though Richardson is believable and tender in the difficult part of Eleanor, the passion between her and Young's Buck grows with ridiculous ease. As a writer, Richman spells everything out; there's really nothing unsaid here. You know you're in bad hands when you see Cynthia's mother giving Buck an unhappy once-over upon being introduced to him by her daughter. Then, when the couple is out of earshot, Mom restates the matter: "I knew she'd pick a shithead." You could take a red pencil to about every third line of dialogue and still know what was going on in the film. Under Heaven has the scent of secondhand experience, the air of student drama, complete with blocky morals; a happy, beautiful death; and a preposterous renunciation.

The Seattle cityscapes are lovely; Richman lives there and has picked locations that haven't been exposed before. Also, there's a heartbreaking love-making scene (mimed beautifully by Richardson) about a woman's first time after breast cancer--it's a brave, breakthrough moment. Lastly, it's good to see the lean, freckled Parker of Kissed again; Parker was last seen in the berserk Canadian TV miniseries Twitch City, which showed her adroitness in outlandish comedy. More of her comic side would have helped this sober retelling of the old movie lesson that money is not for poor people. What was that line in Post Coitum--"The world is not a suffering competition"? When the left-out Cynthia starts competing with the wistfully ailing Richardson, the audience loses.

Under Heaven (R; 112 min.), directed and written by Meg Richman, photographed by Claudio Rocha and starring Joely Richardson, Aden Young and Milly Parker.

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From the June 25-July 1, 1998 issue of Metro.

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