Shaver is terrific as Vivian, and the slow thawing of her character is beautifully paced--you can feel the tension break when she finally lets down her guard. Another strong performance comes from Audra Lindley as Frances. She's a tough old bird with a drinking problem, but Lindley keeps the character from descending into stereotype, and she gives full rein to the tragic side of this lonely woman, especially as she struggles with her reaction to the developing relationship between Cay and Vivian.
There are scenes in Desert Hearts that would be painfully clichéd if they appeared in a heterosexual romance, and even here they only just escape that fate--relying a little too much on significant glances and lines that just don't sound like real conversation. Nevertheless, first-time director Deitch breathes new life into a standard straight-arrow-meets-free-spirit plot, and steadfastly refuses to turn this love story into an "issues movie." Add to that a strong feel for the period and a soundtrack filled with the likes of Patsy Cline and Gene Vincent, and the result is a warm, well-acted film that packs a real emotional punch. --Simon Leake