Movies We Like
No one has heard of Director Pino Amenta. The name John Waters has always brought to mind the Baltimore cult director instead of the English actor. Almost everyone has heard of Guy Pearce, who was introduced in Heaven Tonight—a dated melodrama circulating a strained relationship between a father and his son. The weight of their troubles doesn't have anything to do with your standard fare of family drama, like one of the members abusing substances to the point of domestic strife. The issues that Johnny Dysart (John Waters) and his teenage son, Paul (Guy Pearce), are having are based on talent. Johnny is a failing musician and a has-been after a short-lived but illustrious career 20 years prior. Like many bands from the '60s, his was one that was going to become the next Beach Boys or Beatles—hitting the top of the charts and soon to tour the world. All it took was for his best friend and bandmate to become a junkie and the band collapsed. Now young Paul is climbing to the top with his electro group and doing so without the help of his father. His determination and position as the leader of other young men who are keen on success is not only impressive, but the target of envy and resentment from his displaced father.
Still, things in the Dysart household have stayed relatively steady over the years. Everyone gets along for the most part and Johnny's wife, Annie (Rebecca Gilling), is waiting patiently, and with great understanding, for her husband to put away his guitar and settle down into middle age. Johnny, oblivious to the strain his nonexistent career is putting on his family, is waiting for his last chance to come through. He's finished another album and chases after an old colleague in the business to give him an answer in terms of releasing it. Annie has been the major breadwinner of the family, and with a new business opportunity on her hands she's ready to take a risk and wants her husband to be included. Meanwhile young Paul and his group starts to really become popular and he desperately wants his father's approval and attention. All of this is put to the side when Johnny's troubled old friend and former bandmate, Baz (Kim Gyngell), comes crawling back into their lives and leaves an impact that has the potential to destroy their progress as a family unit.
Heaven Tonight doesn't unfold like your typical music drama. Films like Control, The Temptations, Why Do Fools Fall in Love and Walk the Line are all solid in their ability to bring you to a certain time in history in order to tell you romanticized but intimate tales of the musical giants you're familiar with. By delving into a false band and wholly fictional circumstances (no doubt based on real ones), Amenta's film shows you what the others didn't: the disillusionment of many musicians and the reality of those who, as Johnny says in the film, didn't overdose or expire in a plane crash. It's a tale of what happens when you have to accept the fact that you'll never be a star even though you and everyone around you knows that that realization will break your spirit. Though dated and a bit pedantic at times, Heaven Tonight is very much an insightful, and unheard of, gem.
The film is also impressive on many levels, starting with the music which was crafted and sung entirely by John Waters and Guy Pearce, who here shows the range of his talents even in his first major role. Original music in a film is regarded in high esteem, even having an Oscar category, however, this is usually a single weighty song that serves as an anthem more than a facet of the movie. Unbeknownst to me, Pearce is also a musician who has worked on film scores, appeared in music videos and has made his own music since an early age. I can honestly say that I like the music featured in the film to the point of wishing Video Rodney, his fictitious group in the movie, was a real band.
While Amenta's work as a predominately TV director is apparent and in some ways adds to the dated and somewhat overdramatic segments of the movie, the content as a whole is at once precious, endearing, and humble from both cast and crew. I recommend it to those who enjoy seeing early glimpses of talented actors or a simple yet multifaceted perspective on the music industry.