Here on Earth

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
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

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.

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