Review: ‘Pie in the Sky’

Charlie Dunlap Josh Charles Amy Anne Heche Dad Dunlap Peter Riegert Mom Dunlap Christine Ebersole Jack Wil Wheaton Ruby Christine Lahti Alan Davenport John Goodman Paul Entamen Bob Balaban Mrs. Tarnell Dey Young

Charlie Dunlap Josh Charles Amy Anne Heche Dad Dunlap Peter Riegert Mom Dunlap Christine Ebersole Jack Wil Wheaton Ruby Christine Lahti Alan Davenport John Goodman Paul Entamen Bob Balaban Mrs. Tarnell Dey Young

A cutesy, vaguely cloying romantic comedy, “Pie in the Sky” will go down easily with audiences with a big sweet tooth. Winning performances help put over obvious material populated by characters that simply aren’t very interesting, and aggressively upbeat approach that steers clear of complexity and depth makes the film a much better bet for mainstream acceptance than critical embrace.

Second feature from writer-director Bryan Gordon, who won an Oscar for the short “Ray’s Heterosexual Male Dance Hall” and helmed “Career Opportunities,” takes an epic look at a small-town romance, spanning childhood to adult decision-making time. But the concerns don’t go beyond the simple will-they-or-won’t-they-get-together question, and what fills the time between proves only fitfully amusing at best.

Boyhood vignettes reveal Charlie Dunlap as the screen’s first traffic nerd, a kid so obsessed with the flow of vehicles on highways that he decorates his room with freeway motifs and holds radio traffic reporter Alan Davenport as his greatest hero. Some years later, Charlie (Josh Charles) has expanded his interests only to include the vivacious blond Amy (Anne Heche) and, after a tentative courtship, they consummate their relationship on the eve of her departure for college.

But their relationship can’t survive their separation, and the very straight, single-minded Charlie leaves Northern California for the traffic capital of the world, L.A., where he aspires to work for his idol, Davenport (John Goodman). Taking a dismal apartment anyone else would hate but which he likes because of its freeway view, Charlie is blocked from working at Metro Traffic by a dour functionary (Bob Balaban), but bumps into Amy working as a waitress as a nearby cafe.

But when Amy, now a member of an environmental dance company that puts on little-attended performances at toxic-waste dump sites, informs him that she’s otherwise involved, it appears that things just aren’t meant to work out for Charlie in L.A. He launches into an affair with his predatory landlady (Christine Lahti) and, when he happens to meet the legendary Davenport himself, he gets a job as the great man’s flunky, opening the door for his chance at radio traffic fame and giving his chance of regaining Amy’s favors a new lease on life.

Writer-director Gordon sets the wheels spinning with sufficient skill, and audiences eager to buy into a sympathetic, if unlikely, romance will readily swallow this confection whole. But there may be problems for some viewers, starting with Gordon’s presumption that there is something charming and likable about Charlie’s fascination with traffic.

Beyond that, the staid, unimaginative Charlie and the wild, impulsive Amy eventually come to seem like a mismatched couple, with Amy insisting upon this so often that one comes to feel that she is right. Even though Charles makes him appealing enough, Charlie never develops into a stimulating guy with notable personality traits, and one doubts his ability to hold a live wire like Amy for very long; Heche’s performance, with its neurotic and edgy aspects, merely increases this impression.

But people like to believe in a couple getting together despite the odds, and pic delivers as a romantic bauble for incurable optimists. The humor is corny, the coincidences a bit much, and Charlie’s obstinate sincerity and goodness will be as off-putting for some as they will be endearing to others.

Goodman brings lively ego and bluster to the role of traffic superstar Davenport. Tech credits are standard.

Pie in the Sky

Production

A New Line Cinema release of a Mindel/Shaw production. Produced by Denise Shaw, Allan Mindel. Executive producer, Stephen Einhorn. Co-producer, Allen Alsobrook. Directed, written by Bryan Gordon.

Crew

Camera (Foto-Kem color), Bernd Heinl; editor, Colleen Halsey; music, Michael Convertino; production design, Linda Pearl; art direction, Michael Atwell; costume design, Louise Frogley; sound (DTS), Walt Martin; associate producers, Amy Labowitz, Robert John Degus; assistant director, Gregory Jacobs; casting, Rick Pagano, Debbie Manwiller. Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 2, 1995. Running time: 95 MIN.
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