Thursday 23 July 2015

Movie Review: Dying Young (1991)

A romantic drama that advertises its premise in the title and proceeds to under-deliver, Dying Young is an irritating film that occupies the space between phony and awkward.

In San Francisco, Hilary (Julia Roberts) is a young woman who catches her boyfriend cheating and immediately dumps him and flees to the house of her dotty mother (Ellen Burstyn). With a vague background as a nursing student, Hilary responds to an ad for a live-in care giver, and is hired by cancer patient Victor (Campbell Scott), the 28 year old scion of a very wealthy family. Victor wants Hilary by his side as he goes through chemotherapy treatment for his leukemia.

Hilary learns to cope with the horrid aftermath of the chemotherapy sessions, and helps Victor through difficult days and nights as his body reacts to the chemicals. Soon he is feeling better, declares himself healthy, and scoops Hilary off to Mendocino, where they rent an old house and settle down to life as a couple. They make friends, including the hunky Gordon (Vincent D'Onofrio) and his mother Estelle (Colleen Dewhurst). Hilary and Victor start to fall in love, but reality will eventually catch up with them.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, Dying Young never rings true. What may have worked as a sappy novel by Marti Leimbach falls flat on the screen, with neither the events nor the characters leaving any kind of impression. The romance never catches fire, the motivations of Hilary and Victor come across as plain idiotic, and their actions farcical. Their relationship is based on the outright lies that Victor feeds to Hilary, and a ridiculously make-believe life in a rural cottage. As a side note, Victor's family seems unwilling or hopelessly inept when it comes to finding the missing and very sick heir to a fortune.

Julia Roberts is the only thing worth watching in Dying Young, and despite the poor material she almost saves the film. Hilary is not far removed from Pretty Woman's Vivian, and Roberts gives her some depth and background as an under-educated Oakland girl feeling very much out of her depth in the company of money and privilege. The few scenes that work benefit from Roberts finding nuances of frustration and anger as she adjusts to the opportunities offered by her growing attachment to a sick man. Schumacher's cameras clearly love Roberts, and the director finds every opportunity to linger on his star.

In contrast Campbell Scott (George C.'s son) limits his acting to staring into the mid-distance and sometimes breaking into a goofy smile, and several passages of his dialogue are delivered in an inaudible whisper. Both Ellen Burstyn and Colleen Dewhurst are wasted, while Vince D'Onofrio appears unsure as what his role is supposed to be: friend, handyman or wannabe lover. The scenes of banter involving Hilary, Gordon and Victor are beyond contrived. Hilary's girlfriend Shauna (A.J. Johnson) is unceremoniously dumped on the side of the movie early on and never heard from again.

Despite Roberts' effervescent presence, with an agonizingly prolonged running time of close to two hours Dying Young doesn't die soon enough.

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  1. 2 insufferable hours I never got back. Monotonous, tedious and barren, it was beyond awful. Ateast Julia Roberts starred in better films than this one.

  2. & second worst julia roberts film for me.


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