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Blu-ray Review: Heaven Can Wait (1978)

December 6, 2021

By John Corrado

In 1978, Warren Beatty co-directed, co-wrote, produced and starred in the comedy fantasy Heaven Can Wait, which went on to be nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture (which it lost to The Deer Hunter). Now Paramount has released the film for the first time on Blu-ray, fully restored and remastered from the original negative under Beatty’s supervision.

Beatty stars in the film as Joe Pendleton, a backup quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams who is involved in a motorcycle accident and gets taken too soon to the afterlife by his heavenly escort (Buck Henry).

Desperately trying to get back to his body before the Super Bowl, Joe strikes a deal and ends up in the body of Leo Farnsworth, a rich, immoral industrialist whose wife (Dyan Cannon) and assistant (Charles Grodin) are trying to murder. Joe decides to use his newfound position to change the course of Farnsworth’s company, and he starts falling for Betty Logan (Julie Christie), a British activist protesting his development of her town.

Beatty co-directed Heaven Can Wait with Buck Henry and co-wrote it with Elaine May, and the witty screenplay is one of its key elements. The film is based on Harry Segall’s play of the same name, which was previously adapted into the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with the main character’s profession changed from boxer to football player for the remake. Beatty’s version very much feels like a throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s and there is an almost Frank Capra feel to it, with a boardroom scene that brings to mind Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The story and concept do feel a touch underdeveloped at times, and the basic premise has been done better in other films (including Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death and, more recently, Pixar’s Soul, which incidentally also had a protagonist named Joe). The Cannon and Grodin characters also come off as somewhat overly comedic stereotypes, though Beatty gives himself a nicely developed dramatic arc as both Joe and Leo.

The film does seem a bit slight in hindsight for something that received nine Oscar nominations, but Heaven Can Wait mostly holds up as an enjoyable movie that works at what it sets out to do, which is to deliver an old school screwball comedy. The script is mostly successful at blending elements of sports movie, character drama and romance, and Beatty’s film still offers as a nice mix of fantasy, humour and sentimentality, all wrapped up in a solidly made feel-good package.

Bonus Features (Blu-ray):

The Blu-ray includes no bonus features. A code for a digital copy is included in the package, which comes with a standard slipcover.

Heaven Can Wait is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 101 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: November 30th, 2021

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