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
My main problem with the film was its portrayal of Frances Packer. Don't get me wrong--Audra Lindley's performance is terrific (& such a pleasant surprise after only having seen her in __Three's Company__!). But Dietch & Cooper made Mrs. Packer out to be a venomously lonely & alcoholic homophobe. Rule's portrayal of her in the novel is much more sympathetic & broad-minded.
I believe at least one other reviewer made similar objections, but I just had to put my 2 cents in.
In the end, I applaud Ms. Dietch & everyone involved in Desert Hearts for working so hard to bring this groundbreaking film into being!
Both Helen Shaver & Patricia Charbonneau are beautiful, and the kissing between them is enough to make your heart stop! Don't miss it!
The scene by the lake (Chapter 5), for instance, where Evelyn (Vivian in the film) utters that she lives in a desert of the heart, can hardly have the same impact on film where we depend on a visual interpretation of events rather than a disclosure of her thoughts. It is where Evelyn realises she's losing a battle; her morality is about to be jolted. She clings to familiar things, the drive through the storm and so on, in the hope that the problem will go away while knowing that it won't. At the same time Ann (Cay in the film) has an instinct for knowing when not to press herself further while never quite withdrawing. The film does not capture these subtleties.
For all that, it is a beautiful, sensitive film in its own right, spoiled by an ending that might have been better if it followed the book. In almost the last line, far from Vivian (Evelyn) departing forever, she opts to stay "for an indefinite period of time". Until that moment one is on the edge of one's seat and somehow the film's almost certain "goodbye" comes as a cop-out; as if the women might have been infatuated; Vivian frightened of discovering this new aspect of her sexuality but surrendering to a daring experiment rather than being in love as the book conveys and realising at the last instant that goodbye isn't possible at that moment.
The sex scene is inconsequential by the way but tastefully done for those who like such cliches.
Desert Hearts is a lesbian love story, but also a story about the importance of many types of relationships between women: mother and daughter, friend and confidant. I've seen almost all the lesbian flicks that have been produced over the years, and very few of them have this one's staying power. It offers a deeply romantic and heartfelt view of lesbian love in the old-fashioned Hollywood mold, something we rarely see in the movies. The impeccable use of music is heard in the final scene, as Ella Fitzgerald croons "I Wished On The Moon." I can't imagine any person who has every loved or longed for love, whether they're gay, straight or in between, not being moved by the promise, longing and mystery expressed in that last scene.
Desert Hearts has wit, humor, pathos, a fascinating and unusual milieu, compelling leading ladies and delicious secondary roles, great music and scenery, and oh yes, some exceptionally erotic and realistic sex between two beautiful women.
What's not to like?