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Heaven Can Wait (1978)

November 18, 2010

9/10 Near-Death Experiences

I will never understand why Warren Beatty didn’t do more movies.

Heaven Can Wait is about a pro quarterback/all-around stand-up guy who winds up in the middle of car crash right before his gridiron debut. So he goes on up to the pearly gates, causes a scene because one of The Big Guy’s right-hand men must have made a mistake, the matter is looked into since he’s holding up the line, and it turns out he’s in the right because one of the new angels jumped the gun and took him up to heaven in an act of mercy without seeing if he’d actually survive the accident. Horribly embarrassed, the angels make him a deal: we’ll send you back to the land of the living, but until we can find you a suitable body to fit you with, you need to settle for a temporary body of your picking. They pinky swear on it and our guy eventually settles for a greedy bagillionaire who’s been poisoned by his cheating wife and her lover. Why? Because there’s a pretty lady in the picture and he has to make things right in this hoity-toity bastard’s life if he’s gonna steal her heart.

Sorry for the long synopsis, but that’s a pretty awesome premise, huh? It’s a remake of a movie from ’41 called Here Comes Mr. Jordan and it was then remade as Down to Earth in ’01 with Chris Rock as a stand-up comedian instead of a QB, but original or not, it’s still damn inspired and it’s still a classic.

Co-directed, co-written and starring Warren Beatty, this is as good a place as any to discover the guy’s many talents both in front of and behind the camera. He plays Joe Pendleton, the nicest guy you could possibly ask to have reincarnated into your corpse, and Beatty just makes him magical. I mean, there’s nothing all that special about him outside of his ability throw touchdowns like a boss and kinda sorta play the clarinet, he’s just an ordinary guy who has no problem standing up for what’s right and properly prioritizes the relationships that actually matter in life. Frank Capra probably would have been in The Joe Pendleton Fan Club, and even though there’s a real everyman quality about him, that very quality seems to be a surprisingly rare and genuine thing to come across in movies.

And then there’s Jack Warden as Joe’s old coach, and Jack Warden is just awesome. He was always awesome, simple as that. Julie Christie is good as Joe’s love interest, James Mason is awfully fitting as Heaven’s head angel and Buck Henry is solid as the holier-than-thou angel who screwed it all up to begin with, but the real surprise is actually Charles Grodin (yup, the dad from Beethoven) as the back door man who helped kill the guy that Joe’s body originally belonged to. He plays the likable bastard to a tee, he’s got a ton of great one-liners and adds a really amusing element to all the dark humor that goes along with failed assassination attempts. Then again, maybe this isn’t all that surprising for anyone who’s seen Midnight Run.

But the strongest aspect of this whole thing may very well be the script. It’s already got a fantastic idea to work off of, it’s got a good deal of authentic and heartfelt dialogue to drive it along, the comedy is hilarious, and the characters are all a total blast. Just a super quotable movie with some choice running gags

From a directorial standpoint, Beatty and Henry do a fine job, but it’s nothin’ fancy. Love the way we never get to see what Joe looks like in his new body, though. Great little addition right there.

Growing up, I loved this movie. My uncles would go through phases where they would rediscover movies they used to love and then watch them on repeat until the VHS tape wore out to a dust-like consistency. This was one of those movies, and while I’m thinking it’s been a good ten years or so since I’d last seen this, watching it again a couple weeks ago was just as fun and funny as it was back in the day.

I don’t know how many folks actually remember Heaven Can Wait, at least for those of us who grew up on Game Boys and Ninja Turtles, but it’s a great movie worth (re)discovering even without all the nostalgia factor going for it. It’s a riot, it’s very sweet, and it’s up there with Back to the Future as one of the few movies you can rent for any group of people of any age range without having to worry about any “Daddy, I don’t like this” crap when you’re a half-hour in. Beatty just has that effect on folks.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. lemon meringue copter permalink
    November 18, 2010 9:01 am

    I take it back, Best of Times was the second best football movie of all time, this was #1. I mentioned the mid-seventies BIG THREE of Jaws, Rocky & Star Wars, this didn’t get the publicity of those three but as far as entertainment value, this is right there with them. I should have said “The BIG FOUR”.

    • November 18, 2010 12:32 pm

      Geez, I really need to revisit The Best of Times, huh? Too bad this never got the press it deserved, this is a freakin’ classic.

  2. HermioneO permalink
    November 18, 2010 12:07 pm

    What? No love for Dyan Cannon? She was comedic genius in this film. And only Julie Christie could make her seem haggish by comparison.

    And I’ve got to interject lemon meringue copter – THE LONGEST YARD. The best football movie of all time. I’m talking the original, with real prison inmates.

    I really liked the theme music running throughout this film too.

    • November 18, 2010 12:31 pm

      hahaha. Dyan was good, but between her and Grodin, I thought Grodin stole the show.

      “Mrs. Farnsworth saw a mouse.” “She just saw a mouse?” “No. Before. Outside. She relives it.”

      CLASSIC! And good call on the theme music, what a great tune, right?

      And you’re right, no offense to Lemon Meringue Copter, but The Longest Yard is probably better than this when it comes to Best Football Movie. The football is kind of a footnote here, but as a whole, I’d take this over Longest Yard.

      • lemon meringue copter permalink
        November 18, 2010 2:29 pm

        I agree the story here wasn’t entirely centered on football but it begins and ends on the football field with Joe Pendleton’s quest to get back on the field in between. I’d say football was much more than a footnote, so for this purpose I’m including it on the list of football movies. OK MR. CRAP! The original Longest Yard was a good football movie too but it wasn’t in this movie’s league.

      • November 18, 2010 3:34 pm

        Hahaha. Alright, footnote wasn’t the right word and football does actually play a huge part throughout Peldleton’s life/death, so I revoke my comment. All the same, The Longest Yard is ALL about football and it’s a damn good football movie at that. Haven’t seen it in ages, but I agree, this is probably better than that is as a movie, period.

  3. lemon meringue copter permalink
    November 18, 2010 3:42 pm

    I don’t know, now that I think about it, the longest yard was more of a prison movie, the football was more of a footnote.

    • November 18, 2010 3:43 pm

      Jesus Christ…

      • lemon meringue copter permalink
        November 18, 2010 3:48 pm

        Sorry Aiden, just having some fun with you. Great review by the way.

      • November 18, 2010 3:52 pm

        hahahaha. i know, Mr. Copter. i say we just agree that Heaven Can Wait wins as a movie and a football movie, regardless of The Longest Yard. At least this one had a better remake than The Longest Yard, even though they both kind of suck.

  4. HermioneO permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:03 pm

    Ah. Humor. Ok.
    Did you ever see Victory?

    • November 18, 2010 4:15 pm

      Never have, never even heard of it before. But since it’s the only movie I know of that has both Stallone and Caine, I will be watching it. Thanks for the heads up!

  5. HermioneO permalink
    November 18, 2010 4:35 pm

    Don’t forget Pele.

    • November 18, 2010 4:47 pm

      Never knew there was a Pele movie either. Man, my queue is getting some serious love today.


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