Heaven Can Wait
Still-relevant '70s comic fantasy has some profanity.
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Heaven Can Wait
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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?
- In theaters: June 28, 1978
- On DVD or streaming: July 27, 1999
- Cast: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, Jack Warden
- Directors: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship
- Run time: 101 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- Awards: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: February 2, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
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It's a Wonderful Life
This classic delivers warmth all year long.
For kids who love to laugh
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