Heaven Can Wait

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Heaven Can Wait Movie Poster Image
Still-relevant '70s comic fantasy has some profanity.
  • PG
  • 1978
  • 101 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Values promoted: honesty, integrity, and determination. Good deeds are rewarded; evil is punished. Fairy tale outcome: True love and unconditional friendship will transcend all challenges. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though naive, hero is forthright, hardworking, compassionate, and loving; even significant corporate rewards for misbehavior can't alter his basic goodness. Heroine is courageous, passionate about doing the right thing, and persistent. The world of business wears a black hat -- villainous and greedy. Some ethnic diversity in small roles.

Violence

Several scenes show hard-hitting football practice, games. Comic character wielding long-range rifle shoots a man.

Sex

Infidelity is core story element. Couple shown in bed in several scenes. One loving kiss. One woman wears revealing clothing.

Language

Occasional profanity: "son of a bitch," "s--t," "ass," "bastard," "goddamn," "crap," "hello." One ethnic slur: "Arab."

Consumerism

Coca-Cola, Riddell helmets. Story features the Los Angeles Rams.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking (wine, champagne). One character frequently requests a drink. Cigar smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Heaven Can Wait, an award-winning romantic comedy from 1978, deals with a nonreligious, fantasy afterlife where mistakes are made and worthy characters get do-overs. A timeless story about love, redemption, football, and shady business deals, the movie is contemporary in all but the most mundane details (no cell phones, no Internet, no company bailouts). Action sequences include some brutal football practice scenes as members of the LA Rams attempt to smash an interloper, a scene in which a rifle is used to shoot a central character, and the sounds of a fatal car accident that occurs off camera. Infidelity plays an important part in the story, and there is occasional profanity ("ass," "s--t," "hell," "son of a bitch," and "bastard"). Characters engage in social drinking, with one woman using alcohol to calm her anxiety. The central character's playful innocence and integrity, as well as identity switches and the charm of the attending love story, make this film ideal for mature tweens and teens. Great for a family movie night.

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What's the story?

A calamitous mistake has been made in HEAVEN CAN WAIT. The LA Rams' ambitious backup quarterback Joe Pendleton (Warren Beatty, who also co-wrote and co-directed) has been sent to heaven before his time, courtesy of his escort (Buck Henry), a newbie on supervisor Mr. Jordan's heavenly staff. Unfortunately, the only way the mistake can be corrected is by finding another body for Joe to inhabit, at least temporarily. So, when Leo Farnsworth, corrupt businessman and billionaire, makes a quick exit from Earth due to the diabolical machinations of his assistant and his wife, Joe has found a temporary bodily "home." Joe, however, is far from corrupt. Obsessed with making his way back to his home team, Joe can't help but change the course of Farnsworth's path to power and money, especially when he meets Betty Logan (Julie Christie), an earnest schoolteacher and environmental activist from England who has come to persuade Farnsworth not to uproot the citizens for a business deal. Charm, magic, and mayhem ensue. 

Is it any good?

A triple winner: romantic, funny, and an impressive representative of the "heaven offers a second chance" club. Warren Beatty and the gifted Elaine May wrote the script, based on a play, a beloved earlier movie, and a second movie, and it all works. Warren Beatty is likable and dashing as the innocent hero; Julie Christie shines in the role of a plain-clothed and flat-shoed environmental activist; Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon are priceless as the conniving villains; and, somehow, the creative team managed to put together an astonishing number of superb character actors in even the smallest roles. It's a who's-who of comic mainstays, headed by the delightful Jack Warden. It's surprising how up to date the corporate misconduct is as the root of the evil. Highly recommended as a terrific reminder that solid comedy, a bewitching love story, and good deeds are always rewarding.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the fact that the long-lasting appeal of a movie most often depends upon enduring human emotions and conflicts. Which characters and plot elements feel as fresh today as they were decades ago?

  • In what ways, if any, did contemporary awareness of head injuries in football affect your response to the football practices and games in this movie? 

  • Movies about heaven and/or the afterlife have wide, mostly comic appeal. What is it that audiences respond to? How does enjoyment of these films transcend religious beliefs?

  • Though the story involves a murderous duo trying to kill the woman's husband, which techniques did the filmmakers use to make those scenes funny rather than violent?

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