It is easy to argue that A Night in Heaven is a sort of misbegotten botch job, taken away by the studio when the film was neither the serious drama nor the exploitation film that Joan Tewkesbury ‘s (Nashville) script may have suggested. But I have to disagree. Sure, the telltale signs are there, unresolved subplots about broken marriages and recumbent bikes, guns that seem to have a suicidal purpose but then result in naked boat death threats, reusing the same Bryan Adams song during the opening and closing credits, though the tone of the music seems to have nothing to do with the story at hand, and a film that speeds through its 75 minutes (sans credits), as if it were trying to cram in as many screenings per day until people realize what a dud it is. However, I see it as an interesting time capsule of terrible ideas, and proof that director John G. Avildsen’s Oscar for Rocky, is one of those Michael Cimino-like fluke/pity awards which have nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, but rather an audience being swept up in obvious rah-rah machinations, unaware of the serious limitations of the filmmaker. Besides who else could be blamed for the ineptitude of A Night in Heaven other than Avildsen, since he was also credited as the only editor and camera operator?
While the simplicity of the story should have carried the day (uptight community college professor flunks pretty boy who moonlights as stripper, professor sees him at work and they began an affair), it is bogged down with subplots that don’t elevate the sleazy possibilities, rather they confuse everything. Are we supposed to be paying attention to the problems of stuffy teacher Lesley Ann Warren (whose big eyes and lanky, topheavy body suggest who you get when you want Susan Sarandon, but don’t want any possibility of acting to get in the way) as she jumbles through the moralistic quagmire of fucking her student, played by Blue Lagoon stalwart Chrisopher Atkins? Who is using who in the affair? Does it matter more that her husband lost his job at NASA, his way in his life, finds himself competing against 10 year olds for design jobs at video game companies, and can’t have a conversation with her about any of it? What about the “friend” he runs into, who truly understands him? How about her sister and her troubled marriage? What about Atkins’ sister moving to California to live with her jailbird boyfriend (which seems impossible, because, according to what she says, he’ll be in prison for another 4 years, just as she’s about to move), or his mother’s dead end waitress job, or his girlfriend who seems to show up only after he cheats on her in order to cockblock him?
There’s about a dozen more things given attention during the film*, but I suggest you consider less of these tired, undeveloped scenes and concentrate more on other issues, such as why its such a big deal that Atkins passes a speech class in a community college? Where exactly was he going with that degree (his character, despite what Warren says during the movie, is not exactly smart)? Why does she travel hundreds of miles each day to teach at a crappy community college each day? Considering he lives in his mom’s trailer home, why is Atkins having one-night-stands with his next door neighbor with the promise of continuing their relationship, though she can’t figure out that he’s not going anywhere with his life (despite the fact that she met him at the strip club), and yet, somehow, his mother doesn’t know he strips at all? Why is all the traveling and geography in this movie nonsensical? Shouldn’t that be the last distraction on your mind during a student by day/stripper by night kind of movie? Have you ever seen a film which so clearly had 45 minutes excised to no one’s benefit? Why not just focus on all the boobs and cock (yes, there is a very-progressive-for-1983 cockshot, even if it is quite likely a body double) and cut all the dramatic stuff? The Avengers movie, which was cut down by the studio to well past the point of incoherence, has nothing on A Night in Heaven.
The one thing I haven’t mentioned is one that is most overwhelming about the subject matter. Sure, it was customary at the time to have sort of sexless, very girly male-pin-up Tiger Beat types. It explains Corey Haim, Robby Benson, Tom Cruise, and everyone else. But A Night in Heaven is supposed to be aimed at adults, and Christopher Atkins is downright feminine. Not gay, but actually a girl.
He’s prettier and better groomed than his co-star, has no ass, and is almost completely hairless. It is bewildering that the husband character would find this androgynous Bowie-type to be threatening to his marriage at all. My girlfriend was constantly horrified with having to look at Atkins’ buttcrack, despite the fact that his nudity was obviously one of the main selling points of the film. Consider it an odd companion piece to Moment by Moment, wherein a gay man and a lesbian dated members of the opposite sex for the benefit of the camera.
*There’s so many strange things in this shot, I’m not sure where the focal point should be. Is it the old lady taking a picture of… the camera? Is it the man in the court jester uniform holding a microphone (trust me, his commentary is worth seeing the movie for)? Is it the post-disco era disco smoke and stairs? Is it the thought that women would really find this kitschy stuff worthy of clapping? Is it the possibility that this movie follows the cliché that once the unidentified human takes off the helmet, it is always a girl? Or is it the fact that I’m right, because under the helmet is Christopher Atkins?