A flop

Frederic Forrest in One from the Heart (1981).

The best thing about Francis Ford Coppola’s One From the Heart (1981), generally agreed to be something of a film maudit, is probably the song score written by Tom Waits and performed by him and Crystal Gayle; I’m partial to the lovely penultimate number, “Take Me Home,” sung by Gayle with Waits on piano.  Choosing Waits to write love songs for a romantic comedy/drama set in Las Vegas would seem obvious to the point of being on the nose, since Waits’ music is always already infused with the romance and the seediness of such places.  (When I went to Las Vegas for the first time several years ago I felt like I was inside a Tom Waits song.)  He gets the tension that exists between dreaming big and living low—an idea that’s supposed to structure the plot of the film, in which a bored Teri Garr and her ambitionless live-in boyfriend (Frederic Forrest) spend the Fourth of July entertaining notions of running off with other people, only to recommit to each other.  All of this unfolds against a series of deliberately artificial backdrops, optical effects, and elaborately designed sets that are used to create a Las Vegas only slightly more unreal than the real thing.  (It’s a theatrical technique Coppola would continue to experiment with in such later projects as his 1987 adaptation of “Rip van Winkle” for Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre.)  Waits understands this world and its inhabitants better than anyone else involved in the production, though; the script is a deadly, humorless pastiche of Hollywood screwball comedies, and Garr and Forrest are never able to find the beats in the dialogue.  At least the film has him.

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