Prospero as guest star

King Lear through the looking-glass

Published: Dec 13 2018, 01:01:am

Wednesday, May 30, 1990

WHERE THE HEART IS. Co-written by Telsche Boorman. Music by Peter Martin. Co-written, produced and directed by John Boorman. Running time: 105 minutes. Mature entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: occasional nudity and very coarse language.
IT'S NOT FAIR. The McBain kids weren't ready to leave home.
    Young adults and products of the best schools, Jimmy (David Hewlett), Daphne (Uma Thurman) and Chloe McBain (Suzy Amis) grew up convinced that their wealthy father owed them a living.
    Stewart McBain (Dabney Coleman) insists his offspring learn to fend for themselves. On the night of Chloe's graduation, he deposits the lot of them in front of a forlorn-looking house in Brooklyn, and sets out the rules of the game.
    They have the use of the house, a "landmark building" that his American Demolitions, Inc., has been enjoined from leveling. They each get their personal effects and $750 in stake money.
    "It doesn't sound like a game," complains Jimmy. "It sounds like real life."
    Where the Heart Is sounds like Disney fare. Developed by John Boorman, it was set to film in London when "the people at Touchstone Pictures became interested and suggested I transpose the storyline to New York."
    His previous picture, 1987's Hope and Glory, was a multiple Oscar nominee. That made the British director hot in Hollywood.
    Though known for such difficult, often harrowing films as Deliverance (1972), Excalibur (1981) and The Emerald Forest (1985), he recently said that "in the latter part of my life, what I really want to do is amuse people."
    Clearly, the people at Touchstone assumed he meant their audience, filmgoers who embrace the likes of Cocktail, Pretty Woman and Fire Birds. Imagine their shock when Boorman committed an act of cinema rather than mere moviemaking, and delivered a picture pitched to a more discerning audience.
    A personal vision in the spirit of Joe Versus the Volcano, Where the Heart Is is both literate and entertaining. Shakespearean with an off-Broadway attitude, it's a modern King Lear.
    Here, Lear keeps his kingdom and banishes his children. Co-written with his daughter Telsche, the Boorman version includes a guest appearance from Prospero in the form of an indigent old vaudevillian, a homeless magician inelegantly called “The Shit” (Christopher Plummer).
    Because he specializes in allegory, it's easy to view Boorman's latest as an urban Emerald Forest. While captain of industry McBain is an agent of the destructive "termite people," his artistic, initially parasitic progeny come to stand for creation and renewal.
    Though McBain despairs of his Chloe, she is a force (albeit a flaky one) integrating life and art. Like Peter Greenaway, Boorman makes visual references to great artworks integral to his story-telling.
    And it really isn't fair.
    A fun film that deserves discussion and serious consideration, Where the Heart Is is being given the bum's rush by its distributor. Because it's a “hard sell,” it’s getting no sell at all.
    Richly textured and densely structured, Boorman's dreamlike comedy ends Thursday.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1990. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: In common with his old friend William Shatner, Christopher Plummer is a man who doesn’t know the meaning of the word retirement. During a professional career that began in 1953, the Toronto-born actor has collected almost every honour available to him. The list includes Canada’s Genie Award (for his performance as Sherlock Holmes in director Bob Clark’s 1979 Murder by Decree), an Oscar (for playing gay dad Hal Fields in Mike Mills’s 2010 Beginners), and an Emmy (as ambitious bank executive Roscoe Heyward in the 1976 TV mini-series Arthur Hailey’s the Moneychangers).
    Plummer also has a matched set of Tony Awards for his work on Broadway. The first was for a musical (he sang the title role in 1973’s Cyrano), the second for a drama (as John Barrymore in 1996’s Barrymore). He became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1968, took his place in New York’s American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1986, and was awarded a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto in 1998. Last month, it was announced that he has a starring role in Departure, a six-part TV mini-series currently being filmed in Toronto and London for broadcast in 2019. Christopher Plummer celebrates his 89th birthday today (December 13).

See also: The Reeling Back archive already contains a plethora of Plummer projects. Among them are 1965’s The Sound of Music; Murder by Decree (1979); The Amateur (1981); An American Tail (1986); Light Years (1988); Shadow Dancing (1988); Mindfield (1989); Rock-A-Doodle (1991); Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991); and Impolite (1993).