Heavy (1995)

As a pretty casual fan of James Mangold (big up Cop Land and Identity!) I’ve always been curious to see Heavy, his writing/directing debut. 

This is such a pleasingly simple and visual movie. Set primarily around a small diner and the people who work there. The film is rounded out by an unusual mix of faces. Pruitt Taylor Vince is the film’s key feature, Victor – a shy and overweight cook that was originally written for Black Francis. He’s the kind of lead you only find in independent movies, with an unconventional vulnerability so rarely represented in mainstream cinema. Shelley Winters plays his overbearing mother and Deborah Harry (Blondie herself) also appears as one of the veterans behind the diner’s counter. Any recognisable faces are dressed down to ensure nobody distracts from the overall ensemble. Everything gets turned upside down with the arrival of Liv Tyler’s Callie who becomes the focus of Victor’s affections. 

What could have easily been a workplace comedy, or a workplace drama built from talking heads is instead a pretty pure collage of details and visual flourishes. It’s a wonderfully observed character study that shortchanges dialogue for missed glances between characters, extended shots of faces and details on hands, tables and objects. Mundane objects become re-ocurring motifs of misery or hope. An uneaten slice of toast, for instance, haunts a kitchen following the death of a loved one. There’s a photo hidden in a food menu and strangest of all, a dog lead without a dog. 

While mainly quite an optimistic, gentle drama, Heavy has its fair share of darker shades and occasionally reminded me of River’s Edge because of its frequent fascination with death and decay. It’s a pretty terrific debut that lays the seeds for so much that would populate Mangold’s cinema in the following two decades and onwards. It also has the benefit of being exactly the film it needs to be and nothing more. It isn’t obliged to be a Johnny Cash biopic, a rom-com, a mystery thriller or a existential comic-book movie. It’s just…Heavy.

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