212. Heaven Help Us (U.S. 1985)

Director: Michael Dinner (honestly)

Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Kevin Dillon, John Heard, Donald Sutherland, Malcolm Danare,  Jay Patterson, Wallace Shawn

Script: Charles Purpura

Music: James Horner

Bit Parts: 'Voice of Lisa Simpson' Yeardley Smith (as Cathleen); 'Voice of Bart Nancy Cartwright' (as 'Girl at Dance')

Fact: The film's British title is Catholic Boys; it wasn't very popular with Rangers fans and/or religious bigots.

Lie: Director Dinner has a horse racing column in The New York Times called 'Dinner's Winners'.

Life in a Brooklyn Catholic school in 1963.

A splendid, underrated film which had a brief cinema run before becoming a firm video favourite amongst 'those in the know'.

McCarthy plays Michael Dunn, a sixteen year old ingenue who has been transferred to Brooklyn's St Basil's following the death of his parents. He is befriended by the fat, swotty Caesar (an excellent performance from the little-seen Danare) and (after classroom fight) with the tough, streetwise Rooney (a life time best performance from Dillon - much better than his performance in Platoon) and serial masturbator Williams ( bizarre actor Stephen Geoffreys).

Kevin Dillon

Dunn experiences the sadism and stupidity of Catholic school life. He is beaten by the brutal Brother Constance (a far too realistic performance from inveterate nark actor  Patterson); is counselled by the kind Brother Timothy (Heard); is warned about the pleasures of the flesh and 'the beast called Lust' in a pre-high school dance talk given by the weird Father Abruzzi (a scene, almost film-stealing performance from  crazed actor and playwright Wallace Shawn) and is looked after by the wise old headmaster Brother Thaddeus (Sutherland).

Luckily he is left alone by Brother Paul*. (An in-joke for 'those in the know'.)

Dunn falls in love with coffee shop waitress Danni (Masterson), another teenager from a 'broken home' and there are numerous low-key escapades before the film is brought to a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Heaven Help Us (a fucking terrible title) is another film which is essentially unsure of itself. There are strange shifts of tone, but good comic direction form Michael Dinner (who was the main director of The Wonder Years) and outstanding ensemble acting from an excellent cast make for an enjoyable film. However, it's Purpura's 'earthy' and semi-autobiographical script which is the true highlight of the film. BBC 2 used to show a neutered and expletive deleted/dubbed version of the film, but it's worth tracking down a DVD of the original if you've got more money than sense.

Rooney (on seeing the priggish Caesar queueing for confession): What's he gonna confess to? taking a shit?

Caesar: I will reason with him, I'll appeal to his better nature!

Rooney: Oh, you're gonna reason with a grown man in a dress?

Rooney (sitting bored in the cinema after 'sagging' school and on seeing Elvis crooning in Blue Hawaii): Jesus! What did they do to Elvis? Cut his balls off or something?

Father Abruzzi ( to the teenage girls and boys sitting silently waiting for the high school dance to begin):...YOU WILL BE CAST TO HELL WHERE YOUR MARROW WILL BOIL AND YOUR TORTURED BODIES WILL BE RIPPED APART FOR ALL ETERNITY BY GROTESQUE SERPENTS WITH RAZOR SHARP TEETH! (The teenagers are visibly scared.) And for what? A few moments of moments of weakness when you admired the shape of somebody's buttocks. (pause) Any questions? Right, have a good evening, enjoy the dance and  I'll see you all on Sunday.

Wallace Shawn: fucking mental.


*There IS a Brother Paul in it! He's played by actor Philip Bosco. ('Brother'of John Bosco - an 'in-joke for 'those in the know'.)