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Here on Earth

Starring Leelee Sobieski, Chris Klein, Josh Hartnett,
Annie Corley, Bruce Greenwood, Elaine Hendrix,
Annette O'Toole, Michael Rooker, Tac Fitzgerald
Screenplay by Michael Seitzman
Directed by Mark Piznarki

Set in a small town, an out-of-town boy (Chris Klein) is forced to stay in town over the summer to help with the rebuilding of a restaurant after he was party to its accidental destruction. This brings him in contact with a girl with a secret (Leelee Sobieski), who finds herself torn between her new interest and a lifelong friend (Josh Hartnett).

The perpetual teen film takes on a new direction with far more sobering, sometimes sweet, but over-sentimental tale of young love. Borrowing from staple fare such as the 1970s weepies Love Story and Sunshine, Here on Earth, the title of which stems partly from the poetry of Robert Frost, has some rather nice moments, but is ultimately simplistic and trite, to appeal to a cynical audience. Teenage girls, however, a largely untapped market, may warm to this tale of love, life and death, and the participation of an attractive trip of actors.

The movie suffers from Michael Seitzman's wishy-washy script, one that is too obvious for its own good, and director Mark Piznarki, in his feature debut, milks the material for all its worth. Plus points are some beautiful cinematography (on location in Minnesota) and a strong soundtrack. Performances are varied. Chris Klein, resembling a young Keanu, shows as much dramatic range. Effective in less demanding roles (American Pie and Election), Klein is clearly uncomfortable as a straight dramatic actor. His stronger co-stars overshadow him, beginning with Sobieski, who photographs beautifully, and conveys the right qualities for the fragile and poetic character she beautifully plays. Hartnett is a rare find, and will be seen later in The Virgin Suicides to better advantage, though here he gives a rather nice and intelligent performance in a simple character.

There are some lovely elements in Here on Earth, and for its target audience, it's a welcome change from male-dominated teen dramas that flood the market. Male audiences will be turned off by the film's excessive sentimentality and consistent references to Frost. This is a well-intentioned film that could have been more effective as a solid drama, had it not been for its simplistic approach to the material, and the wooden performance of its lead actor. ©2000 Paul Fischer


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