I was really, at that moment, profoundly interested in silent film. Not some cutesy, nostalgic iris out, 'waddling with top hats on' silent film. Just a modern story about people thinking and feeling with absolutely no words spoken. I wanted to see if I could tell the story with nothing but the camera. Movies, to me, have become less and less and less quiet, and less and less confident in themselves. Their sounds and words are used as a kind of wall-paper. We're pushing people from seeing the image as anything but a recording of someone saying something. As opposed to studying their face and what's going on in their eyes.
- James Mangold
"Heavy", the other 'redemption in a small-town diner' film of 1996 (joining "Spitfire Grill"), was James Mangold's directorial debut effort before the phenomenally successful "Cop Land". Quite a far cry from "Deacon Street Deer" and "Oliver & Company", his writing efforts from his brief stint at Disney that followed graduation from CalArts. In 1989, disenfranchised with the fiscally-focused approach to managing creativity at Disney, Mangold resigned from Disney and attended the Graduate Film Program at Columbia University. It was here that he gained the attention of director Milos Forman, and under his coaching, "Heavy" was born.
Pete was a trucker, an interstate trucker. He was just passing through. Anyway, the point is he put his whole livelihood in jeopardy... it was his truck, he owned it. He did that to save me, a stranger, out of the goodness of his own heart.
"Heavy" reveals the emotional baggage of the employees and customers of Petes-n-Dollys Diner, a family-run greasy spoon in upperstate New York. There is Delores (Deborah Harry, lead singer of Seventies singing sensation 'Blondie'), the aging and lonely waitress who will be stuck pouring drinks and waiting tables for the rest of her miserable life. Leo (Joe Grifasi) is the crusty and perpetually drunk barfly who comes in every night and hopes that Delores will go home with him when he's not shooting back shots of liquor. Dolly (Shelley Winters, the self-sacrificing marathon swimmer in "The Poseidon Adventure") is the owner of the restaurant, who sleeps in a rocking chair in the back and reminisces about her late husband. Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is Dolly's son, a shy and overweight short-order cook who mainly keeps to himself, forever destined to sit on the sidelines of life. And then there is Callie (Liv Tyler, who charmed in "That Thing You Do!"), the breath of fresh air, working at the restaurant to save enough money for college. Throughout the course of "Heavy", she makes Victor smitten, Delores jealous, Dolly happy, and Leo lecherous.
Big as an ox, nobody sees you! I got the same thing, only I ain't big-- I just talk loud and nobody hears me. Something funny happened-- I start whispering and all of a sudden everyone hears me!
Victor is the focus of the story. We watch him stumble about as he worries about his weight, fantasizes about Callie, and deals with heart-breaking isolation. You cannot help but feel sympathy for Victor as he throws himself into an eating binge following a traumatic event or as he works up the courage to express his feelings to Callie. Much like 1996's "Secrets & Lies", this film focuses on the awkward interactions between people, the psychological barriers that make communication difficult, and how the uncomfortable gaps of silence can often say more than any line of dialogue could.
You didn't tell anybody? Why?
I don't know.
You don't know?
I didn't want anything to change.
There are many similarities between "Heavy" and "Cop Land". The protagonist in both films are overweight and 'passed over' for everything. Whereas Freddy Heflin saves the girl he loves from drowning in CL, Victor has a daydream about saving Callie from drowning with a kiss. And both Victor and Freddy learn to assert themselves when the situation they find themselves in becomes intolerable.
Can't you be nicer to her?
Nice? Did you hear what she said to me?
You don't have to be nice... just nicer.
Or what, Victor?
I'll fire you.
However, unlike other films of this genre, there is no happy ending. "Heavy" is open-ended, where very little is resolved at the final fade-out, and the small insignificant lives of the characters continue on the same bleak path, except for very faint glimmer of hope on the horizon. This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of "Heavy", but then again, life is never as it is portrayed in the movies, which is what makes "Heavy" so refreshing and so poignant. "Heavy" hits very close to home. It is a downer of a film, and is at times painful to watch, because it is easy to see a little bit of ourselves in Victor. A must-see film.
I'm fat, ma.
You are not fat. You are not. Honey, you're husky! You're well-built! You're macho!
I am fat, ma!