XX "Dying Young," with Julia Roberts, Campbell Scott, Vincent D'Onofrio, Ellen Burstyn, Colleen Dewhurst, David Selby. Directed by Joel Schumacher, from a script by Richard Friedenberg. Aurora, Factoria, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Lewis & Clark, Overlake, SeaTac Mall, United Artists Cinema 150, Varsity. "R" - Restricted, due to language. ------------------------------------------------------------ To its credit, "Dying Young" isn't always pretty. It doesn't soft-pedal the side effects of chemotherapy treatments, nor does it suggest that people with a life-threatening disease are always on their best behavior.
The title refers to a rich, 28-year-old San Francisco recluse named Vincent Geddes, who has been battling leukemia for much of his life. His hair has fallen out. He vomits a lot. He gets night sweats and chills. He looks awful and sometimes he isn't pleasant company.
Vincent's leukemia is nothing like the mysterious disease that consumed Ali MacGraw in "Love Story" and left her corpse looking as immaculate as Snow White in her coffin. Vincent is physically and psychologically ravaged by his disease. He's like a drowning man when he falls for Hilary, a depressed young woman who has just walked out on an unfaithful lover.
Unfortunately, there's a TV-movie one-dimensionality to the characters, who are never interesting enough to sustain a 120-minute-long theatrical film. First-time screenwriter Richard
Friedenberg's mediocre script has too many lines like "I never wanted to hurt you"; you can usually guess exactly when a crisis will turn up to keep the narrative from lagging.
The best performance is by Campbell Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst (who turns up in a thankless minor role here as a three-time widow). Scott lends some complexity to the skin-deep role of Vincent. He's alternately irritating, sympathetic, morbid, vulnerable and hopelessly private.
When he can't relate to working-class humor and jokes about old television shows, he becomes a lost, vindictive child. Scott even dares, at one point, to seem as creepy as the abusive husband who terrorized Julia Roberts in "Sleeping With the Enemy."
As Hilary, who takes care of Vincent for $400 a week and eventually finds herself emotionally attached, Roberts gives a capable performance, but it's essentially the same performance she gave in "Sleeping With the Enemy." Although she's the No. 1 female star in the world, she doesn't seem to have any surprises or hidden depths. And that's fatal in a movie as underwritten and underpopulated as this one.
The director, Joel Schumacher ("Flatliners," "The Lost Boys"), and cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia emphasize her boldest features - especially her cascading mane of hair and Sandra Bernhard lips - in a way that's unintentionally comic at times. There's something grotesque about the sight of Roberts trying to maneuver up and down stairs in the shortest skirt on the planet.
The script doesn't leave the other actors much to do. Ellen Burstyn is almost unrecognizable as Roberts' boring mother, whose chief character traits are her addiction to a shopping network and her practical approach to Roberts' cheating boyfriend ("At least he supported you"). Vincent D'Onofrio and David Selby are reduced to playing plot devices.
Worst of all, "Dying Young" is a love story about two people who don't seem to be in love with each other. Vincent is a dying man who is attracted to Hilary's beauty out of desperation, while Hilary appears to feel more pity than attraction. They're so shallowly conceived that at the end of two hours we don't know what they feel.