A Night in Heaven

I’m finding it hard to believe they’re in heav-unn.
★★★
☆☆☆
Released: 
1983
Director: 
John G. Avildsen
Starring: 
Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Atkins, Robert Logan, Deney Terio
The Setup: 
Teacher has an affair with one of her students who happens to be a male stripper.
Discussion: 

My friend and I have been jazzed to watch The Blue Lagoon, and since that one’s been on my mind my thoughts have also turned to the rest of the ouevre of Christopher Atkins. He was, I believe, an unknown when they made Blue Lagoon, which means that after that film they had to try to find SOMETHING else for him to do, difficult when all you’re known for is looking dewy and hot. Which brings us to A Night in Heaven, where he brings his dewy hotness to the role of a student by day, male stripper by night.

Now, I was sure that this is where the hit “Dancin’ in heaven, I never thought I’d ever get my feet this far, orbital be-bop” came from, but alas, how wrong I was. This, however, is where Bryan Adams’ hit “Heaven” comes from, and we hear it over the opening credits. Please be prepared to have this song in your head for a few days after watching this film. Anyway, I was surprised to learn that the title may in fact [but doesn’t ultimately] refer to the fact that Lesley Ann’s husband is in the space program at NASA. He is fired in the first scene, and, in one of the least thematically-coherent title sequences ever [as in it has nothing to do with the spirit of the rest of the film and is ascribing the [obviously] rich and deep feelings described in the Bryan Adams song to a character who will be on the periphery for the rest of the film] as we watch Lesley’s husband ride one of those annoying aerodynamic bikes where you sit super low to the ground almost between the two wheels while the title song plays. You know, a guy who rides that kind of bike obviously has some kind of agenda, not to mention being more than a nudge on the dorky side, and is definitely waving a red flag that says “I Am High-Maintenance.” I thought this was canny characterization setting up for why Lesley Ann has to look elsewhere for excitement in her marriage… but no, just shoddy filmmaking. You will be stunned, as I was, to learn that the director of this film, John G. Avildsen, also directed ROCKY [also Rocky V] and The Karate Kid, parts I and II.

The husband is played by Robert Logan, who seems to be kind of a generic Robert Loggia. Is that his game? Does he go into interviews saying “Well, I look sort of like Robert Loggia, my name sounds almost the same, yet I’m half the price?" Kind of like the way the logo for Coby electronics is obviously supposed to appear like “Sony” if you don’t look carefully. Has Robert Logan based his entire career around being a generic substitute like that?

So Robert comes home on his eco-dork bike and asks Lesley, his straightlaced community college teacher wife, to “play hooky” and spend the day with him [on THAT bike? No thanks, rocket man]. The casual sexism of the time is apparent now [and all through the movie] when he lays on the attitude at her for not blowing off the class she has to teach, while the fact that he has commitments that he refuses to break passes without comment.

Immediately after this Christopher Atkins appears, and immediately after that the viewer asks his or herself: “Is THAT supposed to be attractive?” He does get a little cute later, but he looks hideous in this first scene. It turns out that he has one of those faces that alternately looks sweet in a boyish way, or, like The Joker. Anyway, he’s trailed after throughout the movie by this redhead with a perm and a white convertible [the shot above is one of the highlights of the film] who does nothing but lust after Chris and throw massive shade at any woman who crosses his path. Her name, by the way, is “Slick,” and she is known in town for a series of commercials for a local Datsun dealership in which she lies atop a car in a skin-tight green leotard, running her fingers softly over her cameltoe as she cooes: “I got it waitin’ for ya right here.”

At that moment, a viewer such as myself smiles warmly, knowing that I have made a good rental choice. And that is without even mentioning the presence of Deney Terio, the sensation who later went on to host the TV show Dance Fever.

So anyway, Lesley Ann and her sister get CRUNK and go to a strip club. I found the whole sequence of these pent-up suburban ladies getting wild and totally off their face to be hysterically funny and very true to life. By this time one has noticed that that Lesley Ann is a charmer, and is truly beautiful, and, if you’re like me, you start reflecting on how you’ve liked her all along, and not really known it. I found her hysterical in Victor/Victoria, though the rest of the movie is like nails on a chalkboard for me. Later in the movie she really whips out some acting chops and is just GREAT. She’s really a very good actress, and I hadn’t realized it before. I came away from this film with a newfound respect for our Lesley Ann.

So the next dancer to be introduced at the strip club is “Ricky the Rocket,” who, wouldn’t you know, is the very student that Lesley Ann failed in her speech class earlier that day [after ranting to him on how his cuteness won’t always carry him through life]. He sees her, and dances in front of her, even going so far as to climb up and gyrate his crotch inches from her face. I wish all the guys who were slightly annoyed at me would try to resolve our differences in this way. He then looks down at her, and the ceiling is positioned behind him in such a way that it appears that red haloes are radiating outward from his head. From the trailer [not so much from the actual movie] it seems that we are supposed to think that Lesley becomes obsessed with him, and looking back, I think that this halo effect was supposed to be part of that.

Anyway, so they run into each other the next day, and flirt, Lesley’s husband glowers, they flirt some more, etc. The rest of the movie goes on like this [with a few time-outs for Lesley to give pointers to her sister on perking up her lifeless marriage], until Lesley and Chris finally get it on.

On the way to that event we have another Bryan Adams lesser hit [“The Best Is Yet to Come”], and with that, the realization that the filmmakers spent almost their entire music budget on commissioning these two Bryan Adams songs. This is apparent because the rest of the soundtrack is all sound-alike versions of hits from the time [Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” and Animotion’s “Obsession,” most notably]. We also get an explicit statement, not very easy to miss [it’s in the trailer, too] that Christopher Atkins’ character IS 21 YEARS OLD. Oh great, cause I might feel morally creepy about it otherwise.

So Lesley and Christopher finally start porking, which takes place over the length of a disturbingly LONG scene in which he gets completely naked ["Rocket" he is not] and she stays fully clothed. I had a vaguely creepy feeling during this scene; it’s like watching a dramatization of one of those cases that’ve been in the news lately where the female teacher is seduced by one of her teenage students. It kind of wigged me out, but you know, maybe if you’re straight…

Another reason I think that this film may have been supposed to be about a hardcore obsession [and it just didn’t come across] was the surprising and sudden violence of its climax! It was quite shocking when we take this sudden turn [I won’t spoil it because it is genuinely surprising] into extreme violent humiliation, but then it ends somewhat lightly and it wraps up.

SPOILER >>>
At the very end, Lesley and her husband are reunited and are going to attempt to get their marriage back together. They have a drink, and, as their lack of passion was put forward as the main reason Lesley was wandering, it seems that there’s nothing left to talk about unless it’s horizontally and they need to get physical, physical, but NO. They just sit, hold hands, and CHAT. That’s it? After all that, all they’re gonna do is stare into each other’s eyes and have a cozy yak? Why not get crazy and break out the General Food International Coffee? If you askme, dude needs some Cialis or something, and they both need to get doing the scrumpy in double quick time or I think their marriage problems are here to stay.
<<< SPOILERS END

A MONTH LATER
To my surprise, this movie has really stayed with me, and I retain very fond feelings for it. It’s an unusual and kind of moving story about an uncommon topic; a marriage that comes close to being derailed by this flirtation [which I guess puts it in the same company as Eyes Wide Shut!]. Anyway, I just wanted to mention that in the time between when I watched this and when I put it up on the site, the memory of all the silly cheesiness has dissipated and I’m left with a very affectionate feeling for this movie.

Should you watch it: 

Yes. It’s hilariously 80s in every way, kind of involving as a story, and Lesley Ann is really very charming and delivers a great performance.