A Little Bit of Heaven
Directed by Nicole Kassell
There have been a few tries to put cancer in comedies in the past couple of years, most of which have had mixed-to-bad results, because cancer isn’t really that funny. So of course the next step is a weepy romantic comedy about dealing with cancer and finding love! Even weirder, it’s pretty much marketed as a romantic comedy even though is blurs more over into the drama category. But, despite the fact it’s getting awful awful reviews, A Little Bit of Heaven isn’t awful (or even awful awful), it’s far more complicated than that…
Marley Corbett is a carefree woman who seems like she has it all going on. She’s a young hip girl in the city, just scoring a big promotion and living life and partying. Working hard and playing hard. All that cliched jazz. Her biggest worry and biggest love is her pet bulldog, while men are nothing but a list of bootycalls. She has a whole cadre of friends who join her on her adventures.
But things aren’t going all that great in Marley’s life, unexplained loss of weight, bloody stools…something bad is on the horizon. After a visit to the very handsome Dr. Julian Goldstein, she’s diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. Of course, Marley is too busy having fun to take any of this seriously. She shocks her friends with her announcement done in a flippant way, unaware or uncaring about the shock she put them through. Her attitude begins to have some cracks after a colonoscopy shows things are worse than they thought and the only hope in an experimental procedure that might work or might not. It’s also during this colonoscopy that she has her first vision of the afterlife…
Visions of heaven and God sort of seem out of place due to the film not being that spiritual outside of those instances. They are sort of a deus ex machina (pun intended) that sets up the love story plot of the film. Whoopi Goldberg plays God (sort of making this a sequel to It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie!), who grants Marley three wishes after dropping the news that she’s going to die. Marley treats the first two wishes as a joke, then waits on the third one because she doesn’t really have anything she wants. Of course, once back in the world of the living, the first two wishes randomly come true.
Marley’s attempts to take nothing serious reveal a major problem with her not dealing with her friends’ feelings. It shows her character’s flaws, going beyond the idyllic modern woman to a self-absorbed caricature. It is a subtle thing that you don’t notice at first, but the little things of how she acts while her friends are obviously suffering begin to add up. Marley spends so much time having fun she doesn’t deal with her emotions at all, in fact she never really did, always avoiding anything that went serious. Her avoidance and stress builds up. She soon has outbursts in public as the emotions she’s dealing with but not releasing become unleashed in raw form.
The feelings have extra weight with the budding romance between Marley and her doctor, Julian Goldstein, who is square as square can be (to the point where he can’t even tell jokes!) It’s tough work being a manic pixie dreamgirl, though it just gets added to the list of things Marley has to take care of before she dies. Besides the love story and trying to make it up with her friends, she also has her divorced parents to deal with. Both of them she finds annoying in different ways, though her father spends most of the film across the country. Her mother I don’t really see much wrong with, she’s just a typical worried mother, Kathy Bates doing a great job. The relationship with her father is more complicated, but is dealt with in a satisfying way, and a way that seems realistic considering the father is a man who would rarely show emotion or be able to talk about emotions (gee, where did Marley get some of her emotional difficulty from?)
The supporting cast is the brightest part of the film, everyone dealing with their conflicting emotions of horrible sadness while trying to put on a happy face for Marley. Peter Dinklage steals the middle of the film during his brief scene as a special guest from one of Marley’s friends. Treat Williams plays a great estranged father, his strain to actually try to express some feelings when he’s spent his whole life trying not to are heartfelt.
Ultimately A Little Bit of Heaven is about finding what you want in life, even if you didn’t know you wanted it, before it’s too late. It is also a good way to show coming to terms with the untimely end of your life. But it isn’t just about Marley, it becomes more than that. It’s about her friends and family just as much as it is about her.
Most films about cancer seem to act like Marley, blithely prancing around in their own funny world while their friends and family (the audience) are dealing with a whole host of emotions, mostly emotions they don’t want to have while watching a light-hearted comedy. While I don’t support keeping your emotions segregated, I do see why the audience for these films is rather limited. Not many people want to go on a amusement park ride knowing there will be tragedy at the end, slowly killing any possible fun that would have been had. Sure the story is good and I liked the film, but the ride will be one chosen by few. Had I not gotten free passes I’d wouldn’t have watched this, though I am glad I did. But I will be one of the few, and I can understand perfectly well why the cancer part will keep people away.
Also here’s a Roll Call that didn’t fit in anywhere else above:
Rated 5/10 (Finger lickin’ good, someone’s about to be ADORKABLE!, a friend indeed, I believe I can fly…, I ran out of things to use from screencaps…)
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