The good news about James Mangold's Heavy, a gritty, small-budget first feature centering on a shy, fat mama's boy whose life is wasting away in the kitchen of a dingy bar and grill in upstate New York, is that the place is completely free of space aliens, and Demi Moore doesn't jump up on the mahogany to pose for a Playboy centerfold.
The not-so-good news is that you practically have to be Mother Teresa to put up with the hangdog protagonist's moping for 105 minutes. As Victor Modino, the rotund star of the show, Pruitt Taylor Vince, spends the whole movie with his eyes on his shoes, wringing his hands in anguish at the lousy cards life has dealt poor Vic. He's touching and poignant and lonely, in the classic I-dunno-whadda-you-wanna-do-tonight-Marty? style. But he's in constant danger of wearing out his welcome.
"You're as big as an ox, but nobody sees you," a minor character tells silent, insecure Vic. He's just about right. Vic's clinging mother, Dolly (Shelley Winters, typecast to a fare-thee-well), pays attention to him because he's the one who puts her huge breakfast on the table every morning; he's also her cook at Pete and Dolly's, a depressing roadhouse where everyone is measuring out their lives with coffee spoons--Leo, the brooding regular at the end of the bar (Joe Grifasi), Dolores, the battle-weary waitress (Deborah Harry), everyone.
"I have to keep pressure on my saliva glands," Winters moans, then does exactly that. Vic's in the back, playing solitaire.
Into this joyless tableau floats Heavy's supply of fresh air--a ravishing but raw young beauty named Callie, just now dropped out of school and in need of work. Cover-girl-turned-actress Liv Tyler, Hollywood's current rage, shot Mangold's movie before Bertolucci and the others got to her, and it's unlikely she'll soon show her face again in a thing so humble. But here she is. Furtive, baffled Victor falls in love with Callie in about ten seconds (who wouldn't?), and for the next 95 minutes the film tries to tell us--sometimes convincingly, sometimes not--that they need each other as friends and that they are helping each other along life's thorny path.
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The moviegoer's basic instinct is to give plenty of slack to a quiet little film like this one. It's a sincere and fragile thing, worthy of our attention and respect. But the 32-year-old Mangold, son of the painters Sylvia Pimack Mangold and Robert Mangold, isn't above manipulating his audience with a little blunt melodrama, and Vince, who's had small parts in Nobody's Fool (a similar milieu), Natural Born Killers and Mississippi Burning, plays the lovesick sympathy card until it's dog-eared. We're relieved when this poor downtrodden guy, life's observer, finally explodes, but he might have done better to stop feeling sorry for himself a long time ago and gotten his considerable ass in gear--emotional paralysis be damned. As it is, the film's tone very nearly becomes one with its title.
At least that's the curmudgeon's view, with all due respect to an obviously talented young writer/director.
Written and directed by James Mangold. With Pruitt Taylor Vince, Liv Tyler, Shelley Winters and Deborah Harry.