The story of several stuck-in-a-rut lives that change only with the greatest difficulty, "Heavy" moves at its own deliberate pace, for its own hard-won gains. Defiantly flying in the face of fashion, James Mangold's first feature concentrates on the awkwardness, pain and poignance felt by a group of emotional misfits convened at a tavern in rural New York.

The story of several stuck-in-a-rut lives that change only with the greatest difficulty, “Heavy” moves at its own deliberate pace, for its own hard-won gains. Defiantly flying in the face of fashion, James Mangold’s first feature concentrates on the awkwardness, pain and poignance felt by a group of emotional misfits convened at a tavern in rural New York.

Touchingly attentive to the vulnerabilities of marginal characters who don’t even dare imagine that they’ll ever be loved, well-acted picture dawdles long enough to lose viewers with short attention spans, but delivers modest rewards to those who get in tune with its peculiar rhythm and concerns.

Finding a public for this would rep a hefty challenge for a distributor, but pic does feature some names of note, and may find some enterprising company disposed to giving it a shot.

Titular adjective aptly describes Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince), an outsize, 30-ish fellow who makes pizzas at the roadside inn owned by his widowed mother, Dolly (Shelley Winters). Establishment’s veteran waitress is the loose, somewhat over-the-hill Delores (Deborah Harry), who is none too welcoming when a beautiful teenager, Callie (Liv Tyler), is hired to help out.

Victor is so socially withdrawn that he can scarcely speak to Callie, who is involved with local garage mechanic Jeff (Lemonheads lead singer Evan Dando).

Umbilically tied to his domineering mother, for whom he prepares an elaborate breakfast every day, Victor begins having fantasies of rescuing his lovely co-worker which, in a fit of self-improvement, prompt him to begin dieting and to check out the prestigious chefs’ school nearby.

With his mother suddenly ailing in the hospital, Victor has moves put on him by Delores, but he is unresponsive. The episode inspires Victor to be a little bolder with Callie, however, and while the result may not be what he hoped, he does begin to cross an emotional threshold he’s never before risked.

A rather startling conclusion to Victor’s relationship with his mother and an abrupt decision by Callie bring the drama to a head in plausible, uncontrived fashion.

Character-driven to a fault, “Heavy” proceeds in such leisurely fashion that there are times one wishes it would shed a few minutes in order to get on with its business. But it somehow never becomes boring, and the film’s daring focus on such a shy, retiring individual serves as a refreshing antidote to the gangsters, action heroes and self-confident poseurs who dominate the modern movie era.

Shot in a plain, unadorned way, film is dominated by the actors, who do a fine job of bringing to life this far-from-surefire material. Portraying him as furtive, nearly paralyzed and almost entirely isolated from worldly matters, Vince is a believable Victor, a character with virtually no life experience.

Other most important role is superbly and sensitively handled by Tyler, whose Callie isn’t entirely fulfilled by her conventional romance and displays the potential for growth in unpredictable ways.

The mere thought of Winters playing yet another overbearing mother might give many prospective viewers pause, but the vet actress delivers a realistic and, for her, low-key turn that fits in just fine with the other thesps.

Harry fills the bill as the tired barmaid with few options for securing her future, while Joe Grifasi’s barfly functions as mainly a sparring partner to the others.

Mangold presents his original drama with a cautious but sure hand, injecting some welcome humor when he can and endowing each relationship in the picture with its own individual warmth and tension. Some trimming may be in order, but not at the risk of upsetting pic’s delicate effectiveness.

Heavy

Production

A Richard Miller production. Produced by Miller. Executive producer, Herbert Beigel. Directed, written by James Mangold.

Crew

Camera (DuArt color), Michael Barrow; editor, Meg Reticker; music, Thurston Moore; production design, Michael Shaw; art direction, Daniel Goldfield; set decoration, Kara Cressman; costume design, Sara Jane Slotnick; sound (Dolby), Jan McLaughlin; line producer, Gretchen McGowan; associate producers, Scott Ferguson, Jane Wright; assistant director, Priscilla Guastavino; second unit director, Ferguson; casting, Todd Thaler. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Park City, Utah, Jan. 20 , 1995. Running time: 119 min.

With

Dolly - Shelley Winters
Callie - Liv Tyler
Delores - Deborah Harry
Leo - Joe Grifasi
Jeff - Evan Dando
Victor - Pruitt Taylor Vince
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