Dyan Cannon in Heaven Can Wait (1978) - Supporting Actress Sundays

The first time lil Lulu screened Heaven Can Wait, 'twas sometime in the very late 70s or very early 80s. 'Twas also a somewhat secret screening, a film somehow identified as off-limits, as too mature for lil Lulu, prolly by Bobby's mother. (Bobby was Lu's 5th grade best friend, a snarky kid who was such total boy that lil Lulu was shocked he wanted to be best friends. Bobby also was the baby of a family newly aswim in cash, which meant that Bobby had -- or had access to -- the best toys. Including a betamax machine.) Bobby and Lulu shared a love for all things television and for all forbidden things. So, when Bobby's mom forbade our watching Heaven Can Wait, 'twas merely a matter of time before we popped that videocassette in the machine for a sneak screening. 'Spose we expected some dirty sex comedy (somehow we knew 'twas a comedy) and, lo, were we disappointed. Not only was there no filth, but there was no funny. We just didn't get it. Though we did maintain high hopes, o'course, through the entire film that a certain actress would all of a sudden get all naked to satisfy our craving for illicit thrills, an actress with really big hair by the name of...
approximately 10 minutes and 21 seconds
16 scenes
roughly 10% of film's total running time

Dyan Cannon plays Julia Farnsworth, the adulterous rich bitch wife of the millionaire into whose body Warren Beatty's character "quantum leaps" in this curious, oft-remade comedy of manners.

The character of Julia is a fleeting, glancing but somehow constant presence in the film. She's a foil really -- the shrewish wife designed to counterbalance the redeeming daughter/romantic heroine (played with elevating easy charm by Julie Christie).

The role really requires Cannon only to make a vividly bad impression, that she be an immediately and legibly awful person. To that end, Cannon's performance draws upon her most substantial gifts as a performer: her distinctive looks, loud voice, zesty screen presence, and formidable hair.

Unfortunately, though, the film pairs Cannon's Julia with Charles Grodin, an actor of strange intelligence, palpable sleaze and genius timing. The two could not be less suitably matched, and this mismatch neutralizes the particular gifts each brings to their respective roles. Cannon's charm wilts next to Grodin's mild ickiness. Grodin's deft delivery smacks flat against Cannon's chattering and braying. And the two make such a preadolescent show of sexual chemistry that the whole scenario begins to seem just implausible. (Truly. Grodin maintained a more believable erotic connection with Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper...)

To be sure, Cannon's work -- so often framed in wide, elaborately designed set ups -- is sometimes dwarfed on the smaller screen. But even then, Cannon's Julia remains in the realm of the comic cardboard cutout... without the particular, idiosyncratic flourishes necessary to elevate the performance beyond stock comedy schtick.

And, in the end, StinkyLulu's reaction to Dyan Cannon's performance is much the same as 'twas when Bobby and lil Lulu watched Heaven Can Wait back in the day: just don't get it. Kept waiting for Dyan Cannon to whip out some major actressexual charms, but -- in the end -- it seems that StinkyLulu just doesn't get the particular joke of this beloved film. Let alone the appeal of this acclaimed performance...


Anna said...

I'd forgotten about this movie! I absolutely adored it and saw it many times when it came out. Cannon was so good. What a quirky flick! Lots of fun.

Anna said...

Sorry - and I forgot to add that Grodin was my favorite of the bunch. I liked Cannon more than you, but agree that Grodin reigned supreme in their scenes. Especially when he would try to talk very calmly to Cannon's hysterics.

criticlasm said...

completely lost on em--I kept waiting for something to happen that would make it more than a plot-moving schtick, but that didn't happen.