By Craig Joseph
I begin with a confession.
Movie snob that I am, collector of Criterion Collection DVDs, lover of the foreign and documentary sections, ridiculer of anything Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler, I’m loathe to admit that I love a sentimental romantic comedy from the 90s.
Let’s put it (and me) on trial. What does this movie have to commend itself?
Intriguing Theological Conjecture: The film’s premise is that the souls of four recently deceased folks (a petty thief, a devoted mother, a cowardly opera performer and a cocktail waitress running from love) take up residence inside the body of a newborn child. Before ascending to the pearly gates, they’re allowed to use the body of the host to accomplish one important thing they didn’t get to do while alive. The souls are persistent; the host is resistant. Instant conflict and comedy. But it also raises some great questions: How do people live on through those who remain after they die? Does God grant second chances? How aware or forgetful is the deity on a day-to-day basis? And wouldn’t it be awesome to have a Black woman living inside me? This is not just fluff; there’s some substance here.
Excellence in Imitative Mimicry: I have a massive man crush on Robert Downey, Jr. That in no way negates the fact that the boy can act – and a bulk of the fun is watching him “play” his co-stars – Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard and Tom Sizemore. His ability to transform (his posture, walk, vocal inflections, mannerisms) is delightful, even after double-digit viewings. It’s rare to see finely-tuned acting chops applied to comedy these days, and his performance alone is worth the buck you’ll pay after tracking this down at Family Video. And for all you Frankie Valli fans, the dubbing is off and Charles Grodin can’t dance, but the cast’s rendition of “Walk Like a Man” is killer.
Elisabeth Shue: Ever since Adventures in Babysitting, the woman can do no wrong.
Emotional Catharsis: I blubber every time I watch this movie, at four or five different spots. It’s an ugly cry, replete with snot running down my face and bleary-eyed vision. If I’m honest, this is why I love it. I saw it after breaking up with my first girlfriend, when I had traded in the excesses of puppy love for a fortified set of emotional walls that I vehemently erected. I’d sworn never to get carried away again, because people were mercurial and would abandon you as soon as you let them in. And I was doing a bang-up job of it. But Heart and Souls reminded me – still reminds me, as emotional reserve has become a reflexive reaction of sorts – that protecting yourself from the disappointments, hurts and lows of love results in an atrophied heart that also never knows the joys, exhilarations and highs. When I need this truth, I pop in the DVD, and I’m grateful for the lesson – and “heart thaw” – that this goofy little gem provide.