One of my favorite movies from the nineties is 1993’s Heart and Souls, which I first saw at the long-gone CineDome in Concord, California with my cousin, Cindy. She and I have always been Hekyll and Jekyll, and after a wild grab at a popcorn bucket (don’t ask) we were hooting and giggling before the movie even started (Ah, memories). Anywhoo, Heart and Souls is a fun one. If anyone has only seen Robert Downey, Jr. play Iron Man, well, they’re in for a treat.
The movie opens in San Francisco with four characters on their respective trajectories, and for one reason or another, they all end up on the same city bus. Singer Harrison (Charles Grodin) just blew an audition. Julia (Kyra Sedgewick) is running after the man she loves. Single mom Penny (Alfre Woodard) is on her way to work at the phone company. Milo (Tom Sizemore) is brooding after a botched attempt at going straight.
Meanwhile, Hal the bus driver (David Paymer) is busy watching a guy feeling a woman up in the car next to the bus. He swerves a bit for a closer look and sends the bus careening off the edge of an overpass. Long story short, the bus driver disappears and the spirits of his four passengers find themselves in the backseat of a Nash Rambler, where Thomas has been born to Frank (Bill Calvert) and Eva Reilly (Lisa Lucas).
As Thomas grows up, he gets more and more attached to his ghostly companions, and since no one else can see them, everyone thinks he’s talking to the walls or singing to himself (the group likes to harmonize on “Walk Like A Man). At first it’s cute. Thomas is a precocious kid who gets up in class and gives an animated talk about the Battle of Gettysburg, with Harrison prompting him from the back of the class.
Most of their activities are innocent, but Milo takes advantage of the situation and sends Thomas to the racetrack to bet on horses, which gets the authorities’ attention.
When Frank and Eva argue about putting Thomas in an institution, our four ghosts decide they need to disappear. They don’t understand why they have to hang around Thomas in the first place, and he’s getting too dependent on them. Thomas is devastated but the years fly by, and suddenly he’s thirty-four, a lawyer, and his four ghosts have been watching his ups and downs from afar. They’re like a Greek chorus making commentary on his life. What else can they do?
Thomas has a girlfriend, Anne (Elisabeth Shue) who looks like she might be The One, only Thomas is too afraid to let her know it. Anne pulls out all the stops, including setting up a fancy Barbadoan lunch at the Conservatory of the Flowers and all she wants is for Thomas to stop wiggling whenever things get remotely serious.
Oh yeah, there’s also the afterlife to contend with. While the group of ghosts are discussing how badly Thomas is blowing things, the bus driver suddenly returns to take them on to their next step.
What’s that? They were supposed to use their time to do the one thing that would have made their lives complete? Oops. Things just got a wee bit complicated. Maybe Thomas can help them out…if they can convince him to believe they’re real and not figments of his imagination. Fortunately they have a lot of tricks at their disposal, not the least of which is possession. Now if Thomas can just keep his own life from going off the rails, that would be great.
Watching Heart And Souls nowadays, it almost seems idyllic only kinda not. It’s a straight ahead romcom in that glossy nineties fashion. The colors are bright but everything has this soft filter that makes it all look like a fairytale. San Francisco looks pristine, even the rundown areas, which gave me all kinds of nostalgia. I miss that San Francisco.
I also miss the old Robert Downey, Jr. The guy really has a way with comedy but not in a silly way. He’s just cool. Heart and Souls was made just before his brief foray into nuttiness and public drug addiction, but he seems to have bounced back since then. Well, Tropic Thunder was kinda weird, but whatever.
And our group of ghosts have such great chemistry together. I can’t say too much because it would get too spoiler-y, but I’ll just dangle this one carrot: That possession thing-y often manifests itself in some hilariously awkward ways. Like at the board meeting when Julia and Milo both take control of Thomas and, well, they act according to type. Or when Penny uses Thomas to talk their way into a B.B. King concert. Everyone really puts in some great performances and there isn’t a whole lot of scene-stealing, possibly because of each of the characters having distinct personalities.
I think what makes the film work is everyone’s sincerity. The reactions of our four ghosts when they find out they can complete their lives is fairly visceral, especially Penny, who spends almost the entire movie wondering what’s happened to her kids since her death. That idea might be a little uncomfortable for some, and a common criticism in 1993 was that the movie was too sentimental, but there’s a place for that. Sometimes we just need something simple and fun, and a movie like Heart and Souls definitely hits the spot.
Another review is on the way Monday. Yeah, October has been a little light, but that’s life sometimes. Anyway, thanks for reading, all…
~Purchases made via Amazon Affiliate links found on this site help support Taking Up Room at no extra cost to you.~
If you’re enjoying what you see on Taking Up Room, please look for additional content on Substack, where you’ll find both free and subscriber-only articles. I publish every Wednesday and Saturday.