E1 Entertainment // 2006 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // September 4th, 2009
Love will find you in the funniest of places.
A made-for-Canadian-television romantic comedy, Almost Heaven has a lot going against it right out of the gate -- see earlier in this sentence for more info -- but manages to turn out a respectful amount of charm, some eclectic and enjoyable casting and acting, and a not-too-nauseating story. All told, surprisingly palatable!
Mark Brady (Donal Logue, Grounded For Life) is a washed-up television director whose career is stagnating while his alcohol consumption is increasing. He gets a second chance in the way of an unexpected offer to shoot a low-budget fishing show in Scotland. Only when he gets to Scotland does he realize the host is his ex-wife Taya (Joely Collins).
Struggling with staying clean, his dislike of Scotland, his disinterest in fishing, and the worst possible emotional working conditions, Mark's luck begins to change when he meets Nicki (Kirsty Mitchell), a fiery fishing expert who offers the possibility of love, redemption, and a brand-new start.
We review a lot of made-for-television or straight-to-DVD romantic dramas here at DVD Verdict, usually on the old trusty Vomit Scale, which is to count how many time we want to hurl uncontrollably at the lousy writing, the hackneyed plot devices, the contrived love story, or the laughable acting. In Almost Heaven, I expected a three or a four on the ol' VS...but to my surprise, not a single one. In fact, this movie's not half bad. Go figure!
Okay, you're not going to accidentally mistake this for Oscar-winning fare. Almost Heaven almost immediately reveals itself as a made-for-Canadian-television film in its production values, its peculiar lighting that never quite looks like a big-budget film, and its eclectic (yet surprisingly capable) cast of obscure Canadian actors and B-stars. Donal Logue make a sympathetic and surprisingly capable romantic leading man, which you wouldn't automatically expect of the guy who brought Jimmy the Cab Driver to life for MTV. He doesn't really fit the physical expectations of how we expect our hunky leading men to look (unless you add a "c" to the front), but it works somehow. He's dorky and alcoholic and surly in a polite Canadian sort of way, but you root for him to get the girl -- even though there's no way he'd ever get a girl as beautiful as Kirsty Mitchell in real life. Mitchell is charming and adorable onscreen, and one wonders why she isn't a bigger name in Hollywood. I especially love quirky Canadian actress Erin Karpluk (Being Erica) who brings her spaced-out adorableness to the picture. She is a talent largely unknown south of the border, but one who would immediately get snatched up for Bryan Fuller's newest esoteric television project, whatever it might be. She's that good.
The story is well-scripted. A lot of zany comic situations could come from the setup of a jaded and washed-out television producer being tossed a pity project shooting a television fishing show in Scotland and running into his ex-wife, but the movie plays it cool. It's used to explore some genuine backstory and pathos for its characters, all of whom are surprisingly well-defined, with some decent emotional reveals. The scenery and landscape of rural Scotland is a pleasure to behold, and the film takes full advantage, showing plentiful second-director footage of bubbling brooks, rolling hills, green pastures, and the like every opportunity it can. The film has all the elements one expects of a romantic comedy: a down-and-out drunk reclaims his former glory, a single mother with child finds a new father figure, redemption, love, and even some decent comedic bits.
Almost Heaven is a triumph of low expectations. It doesn't stack up to the finest of romantic comedies, but for an independent low-budget Canadian television movie, it holds its own unexpectedly well against the big chick flicks. Were it not for the relatively obscure cast and corny production values, it might even fool audiences in that regard. It's certainly a hell of a lot more palatable in narrative and character development than most of the swill Hollywood shoots out that passes for romantic comedy.
One might certainly not expect it, but Almost Heaven rocks an unexpectedly impressive transfer, one that performs superbly upscaled. The picture exhibits deep black levels and natural color tone highlighting the vivid greens of the Scottish landscape. Some grain is perceptible, but the detail and clarity of the picture is surprising, with every hair follicle and skin detail easily perceptible. Indoor sequences get muddled in terms of softness and detail, but outdoor shots are superbly rendered. Audio is a pretty straightforward stereo presentation, with clear dialogue and little in the way of surprises. Bass response is average. There's little in the presentation to distinguish itself from the myriad of titles out there in the audio department.
In terms of extras, we get an audio commentary track with director Shel Piercy, an offering of deleted scenes (14 minutes, with optional commentary), and a 12-minute making-of featurette. Not a bad offering for a small indie film, especially the commentary tracks.
Totally contrived? Oh, yeah. Bonus points for the Phil Collins song at the end.
Almost Heaven might be the most satisfying and enjoyable made-for-Canadian-television movie ever filmed. This isn't a particularly auspicious category to win first prize in, so take what you will from that comment. As a date movie, this one should tug the heartstrings on the ladies and offer up enough laughs for guys to enjoy. This is a balanced and predictable romantic comedy, well-executed.
Actually a much better movie than I expected. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes