“Crimes of the Heart” is one of my favorite movies. I bought the movie many years ago, and no matter how many times I watch it, I still laugh hysterically each and every time. It can pick me up from a dark mood, and it always leaves me with a smile on my face.
This is the story of the three MaGrath sisters from Hazelhurst, Mississippi. It gives the viewer a touching, but humorous look at the family’s journey through depression, suicide, attempted murder, adultery, domestic violence, jealousy, resentment, psychosis, delusions and mental breakdown. How can those things be humorous, you ask? Watch and see.
The MaGrath sisters, Lenny (Diane Keaton) and Meg (Jessica Lange) are trying to come to terms with Babe’s (Sissy Spacek) seeming inability to comprehend the gravity of her arrest for the attempted murder of her husband.
Meg comes back to Hazelhurst from Hollywood “to see about Babe.” Lenny and Meg go to the county jail to bail Babe out. Afterward, Meg and Babe go for a walk, and Meg convinces Babe to tell her why she shot Zachary, her husband. Babe confesses that Zachary, “a senator from Copiah County,” had found out about her interracial affair with an underaged boy. Shocked, Meg says, “I didn’t even know you were a liberal,” to which Babe replies, “I’m not a liberal! I’m a democratic!”
Babe tells Meg that after finding Willie Jay at his home, Zachary attacked the boy, which was the last straw for Babe. She goes inside and finds a gun. She puts it to her head, ready to shoot, but then she thinks of her mother’s suicide and realizes that she doesn’t want to die—-she wants Zachary to die. She waits for Zachary to come in, shoots him, and then goes to the kitchen and “made up a pitcher of lemonade.”
Meg’s married old flame, Doc Porter (Sam Shepard), rushes to see her, and they spend a night together, adding another scandal to Meg’s long list of indiscretions. Meg confesses to Doc about her mental breakdown at Christmas, and nervously anticipates having to break Doc’s heart again when he tries to talk her into running away with him, but “he didn’t even want to ask!”
The day Meg comes back to Hazelhurst is Lenny’s birthday. The only one who remembers is Chick (Tess Harper), the busy-body, bossy, bully of a cousin who lives next door. There in the heat of the summer, Chick brings over a box of candy as a birthday gift for Lenny, and the box is covered in plastic featuring poinsettias. Meg, self-centered as always, takes a little bite off each piece of candy, “looking for the ones with nuts,” then puts them back into the box.
When Lenny discovers that Meg has ruined her “one and only birthday present,” she goes off. Her tirade is centered on how Meg was always favored, and how Meg always got what she wanted, including singing and acting lessons, as well as twelve jingle bells on her petticoat, while Lenny and Babe were only allowed three each.
In the mean time, Babe seems oblivious to the trouble she is in, but is terribly concerned about Lenny’s mental state. She tells Meg about a man Lenny met after joining the “Lonely Hearts of the South.” According to Babe, Lenny broke off their relationship quickly “on account of that missin’ ovary.” Since the break-up, all Lenny does is “take care of old Granddaddy and work out in the garden.” Babe tells Meg, “Lenny works out in the garden wearing the lime green gloves of a dead woman!”
When Zachary threatens to have Babe committed, she sees only one way out. After two hilarious failed suicide attempts, Babe realizes why their mother hanged “that old yellow cat” along with her.
Diane Keaton, Jessica Lange and Sissy Spacek are delightful as the dysfunctional southern sisters. Tess Harper delivers as the resentful cousin, and Sam Shepard is sweet and sympathetic as Meg’s adulterous old flame.
“Crimes of the Heart” is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Beth Henley. Directed by Bruce Beresford, this 1986 film was nominated for three academy awards including Best Adapted Screenplay. Though the film was made in the mid eighties, aside from the absence of computers and cell phones, this film is as fresh and relevant today as it was back then.
My only criticism is that the southern accent is sometimes a bit exaggerated, and the cadence is off by one of the actors. It is rare to find a movie featuring southern characters in which the actors do the accent justice, but throughout most of this film, it is done well.
I would recommend “Crimes of the Heart” to anyone who likes to laugh, especially if you enjoy your humor with a southern flare. You just can’t help loving and rooting for the MaGrath sisters. If you need a little pick-me-up, or even if you don’t, watch, laugh and enjoy…