Published March 1, 2000
Maybe Ali McGraw couldn’t have managed it, but one would have liked to see the beautiful and talented Leelee Sobieski given a chance to move an audience without having to die. Alas, it was not to be. Here On Earth, written by Michael Seitzman and directed by Mark Piznarski, is a remake of Love Story for teens. For how quaint now seems the relative innocence of the 20-somethings played by Miss McGraw and Ryan O’Neal thirty years ago. Now 18 year-olds Kelley (Chris Klein) and Sam (Miss Sobieski) are obviously sexually experienced already when they assume that a mutual attraction will lead straight to intercourse—do not pass romance, do not collect $200.
Presumably Messrs Seitzman and Piznarski think that the situation will provide all the romance this “hook-up” requires. Kelley is a snotty and arrogant rich kid at a private school in Massachusetts called Ralston. Out joy-riding with some pals in his graduation present, a new Mercedes, he insults a couple of townies, including Sam’s boyfriend, Jasper (Josh Hartnett), who challenge him to a drag race. In the ensuing accident no one is hurt, but one of the cars crashes into an improbably old-fashioned and rickety gas-station-cum-diner (called Mabel’s Table) belonging to Sam’s parents which subsequently burns down. What mom always says (says Sam)—“As long as we’re all alive, it’s nothing more than a bad day, right?”—has a certain poignancy in the light of subsequent events.
Kelley and Jasper are both sentenced by a wise and tough local magistrate (like all wise-and-tough judges in the movies she is a black woman) to work together with Jasper’s father (Michael Rooker) to rebuild the diner. “It’s a chance to put back what you took,” says the judge, “and “maybe not just build a restaurant” but along with it some “character.” To add to the human interest, Kelley must board with Jasper’s family for the summer. On the one hand, Kelley’s snobbery and arrogance—at first he won’t even eat with the family—have to be broken down; on the other hand, Jasper too has to learn to overcome some of his hostility. His mom asks him: “Did you ever think you’re the lucky one? I didn’t see a mother in that courtroom.”
How perceptive of her! Turns out that Kelley’s mom, to whom he was devoted, committed suicide—as, indeed, who would not who was married to his nasty, overbearing, rich-guy dad—and he, Kelley, found the body. It is his secret sorrow that, once discovered, makes Sam love him. But before that, Sam is physically attracted to him. First things first. Like the man in the Coke commercial, Kelley appears to her bare chested on the construction site. “I’m hot,” says Sam. “I think I’ll get something to drink.”
This, I think, is what is supposed to pass for witty dialogue. Here’s some more. When Sam has got her drink, she engages Kelley in conversation. He confesses that he has killed Jasper’s little sister’s pet mouse.
“You could get arrested for that,” Sam playfully opines.
“Will there be handcuffs?”
“Do you want handcuffs?” says saucy Sam.
“Depends who’s putting them on.”
Even more ludicrous than these clunky lines is the scene in a meadow where Sam’s willing seduction is consummated and Kelley compares her body parts to the states of the Eastern seaboard as he fondles them one by one. When he gets to Massachusetts, she murmurs dreamily, “Massachusetts welcomes you.”
There is one sort-of funny line in the movie. When caught in bed in the paternal mansion in Boston by Dad and Dad’s girlfriend, an awkward breakfast ensues between the two women while Dad is sternly telling Kelley to ditch the girl and concentrate on Princeton and success. “So how did you and Kelley meet?” asks Dad’s girlfriend.
“He burned down my family’s restaurant,” says Sam.
But it is not enough to save this movie from the general bad writing and the clichéd, dying-girl situation which, transplanted to the teenage years and embellished with some coy sex and a lot of maudlin “poetic” ambiance seems a trifle sick.