A Sound B
starring Julia Roberts, Campbell Scott, Vincent D'Onofrio, Colleen Dewhurst
screenplay by Richard Friedenberg
directed by Joel Schumacher
by Walter Chaw If you ever wondered, like I never did, what a movie scored by Kenny G (actually James Newton Howard--Kenny G is just the "featured saxophone performer") would be like, director Joel Schumacher and star Julia Roberts, in the middle of her big-hair era, hold the answer. "Dying Young" nothing--this thing was dead before it got there. Seems to me that while Schumacher's films were always terrible, puerile ennoblement fantasies, there was a time--at least in the '90s--when his titles had a bit of honesty about them: Flatliners, Falling Down, and the ironically-dubbed Flawless and Batman Forever.
In Dying Young, the only thing harder to watch than Roberts doing a tepid redux of her Pretty Woman hooker of mercy is Campbell Scott, fresh from Longtime Companion, doing the noble terminal patient thing again with a convincingly deathlike lack of enthusiasm. Not just a second pass at the already excruciating Love Story, the picture is a faded Xerox of any number of entertainments--one of those useless bits of goop manufactured exclusively for decades of replay on Lifetime. Indeed, watching it in bits and pieces slowly over the course of years of channel-surfing is probably the only way to receive a non-lethal dose of it.
Hilary (Roberts) is a low-class girl who discovers her boyfriend cheating on her, so she takes a job as live-in nurse to leukemia-stricken rich boy Victor (Scott). Because she says "fuck" a lot and lives in a part of the city where beautiful African-American children jump rope, Victor has much to teach blue-collar Hilary, though in the end, it's Hilary who teaches Victor a little something about life as they teach each other what it means to love. Hilary, by the way, briefly entertains a flirtation with handyman Gordon (Vincent D'Onofrio) that test audiences swiftly, remorselessly crushed. Sadism: alive and well and living in middle America.
At one point Victor, in the fifth year or so of writing his doctoral thesis on "art," gives Hilary a slideshow featuring Klimpt and Rosetti, who both (wait for it) were obsessed with beautiful women and then (wait for it...wait) died! Young! It's an interesting moment because it reminds the contemporary viewer of a similarly insulting slideshow from Roberts's latest slog Mona Lisa Smile. It's also interesting because it should dawn on most sentient viewers that this movie is treating them with as much condescension as Victor is treating Hilary--the audience surrogate, after all, in this pre-Oprah's Book Club Oprah's Book Club affair of the heart. (The true test of which is determining whether Oprah can be substituted in place of the heroine.) There's another sequence in which Hilary puts mayonnaise in her hair as some sort of cost-cutting conditioner and Schumacher gifts us with a close-up of the label: "Pure Mayonnaise." Yes, it is--the purest. There's that honesty again.
Fox releases Dying Young on DVD in a vanilla 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation long on Schumacher's over-saturated colours and short on subtlety, which is, of course, not the transfer's fault; its softness--that impression that the lens has been smeared with Vaseline, "Glamor Shots"-style--is something you can't really win by being faithful to. Black level looks great and edge enhancement is only there if you really, really look for it, proving once again that bad films don't mean bad transfers and vice versa. Cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchía, by the way, will later do his best work with Scott on Scott's third film as director, Off the Map. There's almost nothing to say about the Dolby Surround audio except that the dialogue is clear and the score is clearly insipid. A short making-of featurette (3 mins.) produced at the time of the film shows a lot of B-roll stuff and the standard cast/crew soundbites. They don't do much except reveal that Schumacher, as is also true of his films, still looks exactly the same. Two Dying Young trailers and a trailer for Sleeping with the Enemy round out the disc. Originally published: February 19, 2004.