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Weighty Subject

Team Solitaire: Pruitt Taylor Vince hopes that if he plays his cards right he can get a date with Liv Tyler in "Heavy."

'Heavy' is not an ordinary film about ordinary people

By Richard von Busack

WHEN VIC (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the hero of Heavy, got on a scale and fretted over the reading "250," all I could think was "Lucky." Modesty forbears talking about what it's like to be that size, but I will say that young people really wanting to give visual proof that they're outside of society don't have to pierce or tattoo themselves--they can do it the easy way by gaining 100 pounds. This is transgressive behavior that shocks and angers all the right people. It shows, through the health hazards inherent, that always-attractive spirit of living for the moment. And it's a gesture that will never be co-opted by corporate capitalism and the mass media. Maybe "never" is too strong a word; someone in marketing departments throughout the entertainment industry must have OK'd a trend toward fatter protagonists, since the summer's movies have already included a stocky Quasimodo and a downright humongous Eddie Murphy. Heavy was made independently, presumably without an eye on the market. It's a notably sensitive, unpatronizing work. The detachment with which the hero is watched makes it a far from ordinary movie about ordinary people.

Victor is a balding, overweight cook at his mother's pizza joint in upstate New York. The catalyst of the action is the arrival of Callie (Liv Tyler), a young, fresh-faced college dropout who begs a job there. Callie's beauty antagonizes both Delores (Deborah Harry), a career waitress, and Vic's mother (Shelly Winters). Winters tones herself down for this part, but she's loud--even in scenes of semiconsciousness in a hospital bed she's loud. Avoiding the wrath of both women, Vic shyly watches Callie, daydreaming of leaving the pizza parlor for a nearby culinary academy.

Heavy may sound like one of those movies that is good for you, like cruciferous vegetables. Still, Vic has an undertone of menace, in addition to a lot of gently quiet desperation. Not all smolderers go off, and it's to the credit of director/writer James Mangold that he holds the story in check, suggesting possibilities of passionate outburst as well as portraying the desperation. Tyler, so dull in Stealing Beauty, is more believable, and certainly more likable, as a girl of limited horizons. Mangold doesn't write about characters whose potential is bursting out of their pores. There's a pleasing amount of uncertainty about whether Vic ever will leave to be a chef, or whether Callie indeed is, as she suspects, too special to be a waitress. Harry's Delores, looking drawn, pale and dark around the eyes, like Christopher Walken's twin sister, must have been just like Callie 20 years ago.

As it closes, the film becomes uneven. At the worst moments during the endgame, Heavy seems like the sort of rickety little-people drama that's the lifeblood of little theater--quick spools of narrative that come out of nowhere, the revelation of the backstories and quirks of blocky supporting characters that don't seem as finished as the leads. At his best, Mangold leaves questions of motivation up in the air, adding to the piquancy of such intriguing, indirect imagery as a dog tethered to a supermarket horsy ride or a small plane chugging across the sky as an emblem of Victor's hopes. Mangold gives all the indications of a director who, unlike many film-festival favorites, will be around for the long haul.

Heavy (Unrated; 105 min.), directed and written by James Mangold, photographed by Michael Barrow and starring Pruitt Taylor Vince and Liv Tyler.

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From the July 11-17, 1996 issue of Metro

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