A "Love Story" for the '90s, "Here on Earth" has more of a heart than the '70s hit. But the two tearjerkers have much in common: Rich preppy meets girl of lesser means, they fall in love just before she gets cancer and dies. Thankfully, the message is not as insipid as, "Love means never having to say you're sorry." "Some people live their whole lives and never fall in love," says Samantha, played with uncommon honesty by Leelee Sobieski. "I lived and I fell in love."
Directed by Mark Piznarski, the film has a dreamlike pace, and the look of a Renaissance painting, both in its earth-toned palette and the luminous, perfect faces of its stars. Sobieski and her lover, Kelley (Chris Klein), shine out of the film like a god and goddess. That everyone else in the cast is scruffy and unkempt solidifies this impression: Poor Jasper, Samantha's soon-to-be ex-boyfriend (Josh Hartnett), doesn't even get to shampoo or comb his hair. He also frowns a lot and can't help being really, really dull.
The filmmakers are successful at helping the audience see how awful Sam's life would be, one boring year after another, if she stayed with Jasper. The love of the hunk Kelley, by contrast, is the stuff dreams are made of. They say all the right things to each other, and the wooing is sweet and tender enough to make you want to be 18 all over again, if only being 18 were really like that.
The theme of eternal love certainly gets the look it deserves but, sadly, not the plot it needs. The perfectly lit youths, along with their truthful acting, deserve a less predictable story.
Two guys--one ordinary, one from a different world--compete for the same girl, with the obligatory hell-bent-for-leather car race. There's the unfeeling wealthy father of the rich kid, Kelley, and it's all capped off by the all-too-familiar disease. Throw in a dead mother for him, and a cop father for her--it all adds up to "been there, done that."
But for tragedy fans, there's plenty of doom in this picture. (Some of it, it must be noted, in the struggle to give the handsome Kelley some depth.) Even moments intended to be sweet leave the viewer in despair. When Kelley tells Sam about his pain over his mother's suicide ("The blood was like paint, it was so thick," he says), Sam comforts him with her version of Heaven, describing it as a place where we all run around with all our good memories and all the people we love. It's a nice sentiment, but Kelley's horrific revelation leaves you wondering if a mother who inflicts such a sight on a child has any good memories to give, or has ever loved.
Later, after Kelley has delivered Sam's eulogy, the camera jerkily finds its way to the meadow above the town. There's Sam running like the goddess Diana, sleek and tan, her long hair backlit like a nimbus. It comes across as something the director tacked on to keep us from feeling utterly devastated. It only made me feel worse.