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Monday, 6 February 2017

Retro Review: Dying Young (1991)

Dying Young
Cast: Julia Roberts, Scott Campbell, Vincent D' Onofrio, Ellen Burstyn
Genre: Romantic Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $83 million

Plot: With little money, poor education and no luck when it comes to love, Hilary O' Neil answers an ad and finds her whole world suddenly changed. Hired as the caretaker to a seriously ill young man, she unexpectedly discovers they have much in common, even though he is wealthy and intelligent. Their growing friendship quietly develops into a deep and powerful romance that ultimately tests the boundaries of true love  

'I Was Dying Inside Sitting Through This Mawkish Nonsense'

Hilary catches her boyfriend sleeping with another woman and dumps him and when she becomes a nurse companion for a terminally ill man, she ends up falling in love, until Victor's disease eventually takes its toll on him. Surprising co-produced by Sally Field of all people, Dying Young is predictably schmaltzy that comes across as phoney and nauseating and pandering to the masses. Though it didn't help matters that the film was ruined by the overuse of profanity and a performance by Julia Roberts, which for me, though she can be a great actress in her own right, unfortunately, some of her movie choices are, in turn, questionable, not to mention are a letdown. With this one being one of them - although this film is pipped to the post by the even more odious dreck that is Eat, Pray, Love

Campbell Scott both overacted and underacted as his character, who has Leukemia; he was basically a version of Tom Hanks's character in Philadelphia, but he was either angry most of the time or just one-note-ish and pedestrian with virtually no charisma. That, & his character manages to look better when he is sicker, which never happened to Hanks in Philadelphia. The screenplay is very much to blame; however, there were times where I couldn't make out what Scott was saying, as some of it was inaudible. 

Julia Roberts has gone down the terminal illness route before in Steel Magnolias, as well as the art history thing through Mona Lisa Smile. The illness thing was done miles better in Philadelphia but whereas those films are approached with seriousness, credibility and curiosity and in an inviting way, that is not so the case with Dying Young. To her credit, however, she does the best she can with the material, especially in the scenes where Roberts's character, Hilary becomes more frustrated with Victor, as trite as it is, but Campbell Scott is the real weak note and after this performance, I can see why unlike Roberts, he, in particular, didn't blow up as a major Hollywood star, afterwards. Meanwhile, Vincent D'Onofrio fared better and though he doesn't have much to do, when he did appear, he did make a slight impression.  

Clocking in at an agonising and painstakingly 2 hours, Dying Young is a romantic drama hampered by an uninspiring, dreary script that is on the verge of tedium that by the time the end credits rolled, I didn't give two cents for it. As much as this wants to be a heartfelt film about two people falling in love, despite the impending gloom of death, it really doesn't have much going for it, substance-wise for it to liven it up.

A lot of men will say that this is one of those movies that men will loathe and women will love; well, in answer to that, I thought the screenplay was utterly depressing with dialogue that had me zoning out in places. The direction, dialogue, production and visual style all come across as flat and lifeless and none of the characters are anything particularly special to speak of. The characters are portrayed in such a way that as much as I wanted to care enough for them, I just couldn't because they were so insufficient. The dance scenes come off as looking goofy than something you can go along with. The screenplay doesn't do the premise much justice, whatsoever: it's just Julia Roberts and Campbell Scott's characters fighting, spew asinine dialogue, talk, and talk some more. & it gets stale - fast. The sheer dullness of it all just killed my enthusiasm towards it. And it's unfortunate that what should've been an engaging and insightful drama on terminal illness, rapidly descends into complete boredom. Although there was one scene with Victor who injects himself, unknowingly to Hilary herself. 

The relationship that develops between Hilary and Victor comes across as being awkward and the chemistry between Julia Roberts and Campbell Scott was void and so utterly forced, and I just didn't feel it throughout. I get the idea of their characters, Victor and Hilary falling for each other but I didn't buy into their relationship, and there wasn't really much heart I felt between them. 

One of the candidates for worst film of 1991, Joel Schumacher was clearly banking a lot on golden girl, Julia Roberts after Flatliners to save the day, once again. Fortunately and thankfully for her, she branched out towards other avenues, flexing her acting muscles, playing a range of different and varied characters and went on to appear in much better and superior films such as The Pelican Brief, Erin Brockovich, Mona Lisa Smile. & that's despite being pigeonholed as the love interest in rom-coms. Julia Roberts has done far better and appeared in exceedingly superior efforts than this one. 

Also, for a romantic drama, this is probably one of the most un-romantic films I've sat through, it was non-existent all the way through.


Pros +

- Nice location shots 

- Hilary's best friend 

Cons -

- Tedious and barren script 

- Agonising and overbearing 2 - hour run-time 

- Depressing, dull, dreary

- Flat direction, production, visual style  

- No characterisation whatsoever 

- Subdued performances lacking in excitement, conviction, believability, especially from Campbell Scott 

Final Verdict:

This is a film that has Lifetime movie of the week stamped all over it; nothing about it clearly stands out or has something interesting to say and unfortunately, it is another bad Julia Roberts movie - although through hers and Vincent D'Onofrio's valiant efforts, it isn't necessarily their fault, rather it's the lacklustre direction and poor script that kills it. 

It could've been far less trite and with a few more cute, but not overly cute scenes to alleviate the boredom and drama. Yet this barren film sticks out like a sore thumb and becomes more overbearing and fatiguing, as it prolongs even further. Additionally, the cursing in this film, in the context of the story, was frankly unnecessary and rather discouraging and it took away from the emotive aspects that the story tried to evoke & could have benefited more of. 

Overbearing, overlong and insipid throughout, Dying Young practically drove a stake in its heart and with that, it died. 

Luckily for Julia Roberts, at least her 30+ year career survived throughout it, as well as several other stinkers.


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