Lighten up, Alvie

Facing the question of sex after death

Published: Jan 05 2015, 01:01:am

Wednesday, February 10, 1988.
HEAVEN. Music by Howard Shore. Written and directed by Diane Keaton. Running time: 80 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifier's warning: not suitable for children; some violence, very coarse language.
LIFE WITH ALVIE ISN'T easy. As played by Woody Allen in his memoir-comedy Annie Hall, Alvie Singer is a serious wimp.
    Poor Annie. As played by Diane Keaton, she is fresh from the Midwest, and discovering that life in Alvie's big city is an endless round of art films and angst, with the self-absorbed little guy constantly kvetching about love and death.
    Life with Woody must have had its moments. As an actress, Keaton played opposite actor-playwright Allen in both stage and screen versions of his Play It Again, Sam (1972).
    She starred opposite Allen, the screenwriter-director, in his comic films Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975). Their off-screen relationship inspired him to create the Oscar-winning romantic monologue Annie Hall (1977).
    Turnabout is fair play. With Heaven, her debut as a feature film director, Diane Keaton offers Annie's response to Alvie's obsession with his own mortality.
    A perky, pseudo-serious examination of American attitudes about the afterlife, it combines kitschy archival footage with quirky studio interviews. With mock gravity, her picture poses such questions as "what is heaven?" and  "how do you get to heaven?" and the Alvie Singer special, "are you afraid to die?"
    It's Annie's message to Alvie: "Lighten up."
    Interviewed are a cross-section of citizens, including atheists, believers, street-corner preachers, flakes, fundamentalists, children and members of Keaton's immediate family.
    Each participant states his or her views on a studio set criss-crossed with shadows that give it an otherworldly, occasionally spooky look. Their responses are punctuated with vintage movie moments selected to demonstrate the deadly seriousness and utter risibilty of it all.
    "Is There Sex in Heaven?"
    Here's a clip of Brigitte Helm, the Robotrix from Metropolis (1926) in her lustful Maria disguise, taking a step towards the camera and winking.
     Here's a complementary shot of rotund John Lipson, winged and helmeted as Vultan, king of the Hawkmen, as he takes a step towards the camera in the 1936 Flash Gordon serial.
    The characters are edited together in a kind of mating dance that Keaton has set to Henry Mancini's brassy Peter Gunn theme. Is there sex in heaven, Alvie?
     Brigitte winks, and winks and winks.
    An airy, inconsequential documentary, Heaven offers mysticism with a light, musical rhythm.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Another song that the Los Angeles-born Diane Keaton might claim as her own: Paul Anka's "My Way" (1969). Never married, she went her own way from the start, which happened to be a singing/dancing role in the original 1968 Broadway production of Hair. The 22-year-old Keaton distinguished herself by not undressing for the rock musical's controversial mass nude scene. In 2003, as Jack Nicholson's co-star in the romantic comedy Something's Gotta Give, the 57-year-old Keaton did a brief, full-frontal nude scene "to be honorable to the movie." Last May, Guardian correspondent Emma Brockes speculated that she "has probably made more money from selling properties in L.A. than from acting," a reference to Keaton's lesser-known career as a real-estate developer. Keaton will be heard from next as the voice of Dory's mother, Jenny, in Pixar's 2016 animated feature Finding Dory (billed as the sequel to 2003's Finding Nemo).

See also:  New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis's December 28 feature  In Hollywood, It’s a Men’s, Men’s, Men’s World.