Manna From Heaven

on August 02, 2002 by Bridget Byrne
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It feels homemade. But then it is. There's good and bad to that. Like a hand-knitted sweater, it's a little lumpy and ill-fitting, but it has a wonderful texture and attractive color and is just fine for making you feel warm and cozy.

"Manna from Heaven" is a production by the five Burton sisters, a couple of whom also take on directing duties, with another playing the protagonist in a story written by their mother.

Based in their hometown, Buffalo, this shaggy relationship tale is an amusing fable about what money can't buy but can, perhaps, instigate. Once upon a time, a bunch of people experienced, quite literally, a windfall. On the advice of the noblest and youngest of the extended family group, they keep the money that fell from the sky into their lower-middle-class neighborhood. The adviser eventually grows up to fulfill her desire and destiny: She becomes nun. A nun with second thoughts. Her belated insistence that they give the money back leads to larceny, both emotional and literal, among the rest of the group, whose dreams have not come true or have turned out to be the wrong fantasy. It also leads, however convolutedly, to good times and good feelings, as these anybodies living under-par lives reconnect with the hopes and expectations of their youth. Is it still possible to dance like Astaire and Rogers, to heal all mankind's suffering, to live worry-free, to find happily-ever-after...?

The name actors who signed on for the assorted characters bring skill and warmth to their duties, but can never quite overcome the cobbled-together nature of the plot and the contrived quirks of the oddball bunch caught up in their own morality play. Like many stories that introduce the audience, however briefly (and in this case it is briefly), to younger versions of characters later played out more fully, it requires a leap of faith to believe they turned out like that, both physically and emotionally. The emotional transitions here are sort of convincing, the physical ones less so.

Although few of the characters are completely admirable--they are, after all, human, even if sketched along rather tall story lines--at least they are essentially good-hearted, despite their contentious relationships. Together, the crowd that makes up the cast finds a mutual tone that is almost satisfying in its combination of humor and heart, but apart they seem to flounder, each star experienced enough to hold his or her ground but too much into their own off-kilter interpretations of the proceedings. You get what you expect from them--Wendie Malick's excellent comic timing as a tough cookie casino dealer; Shirley Jones' proper demeanor coating something much more bizarre; Jill Eikenberry, smart enough to avoid the saccharine side of sweetness.

The men don't fair quite so well--Frank Gorshin is too broad as a compulsive grifter; Seymour Cassel's attractive oddness doesn't shine as a sharp operator; Austin Pendleton is simply annoying. As the eternally hopeful nun, Ursula Burton holds Starring Ursula Burton, Seymour Cassel, Shelley Duvall, Jill Eikenberry, Louise Fletcher, Frank Gorshin, Faye Grant, Harry Groener, Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, Wendie Malick and Austin Pendleton. Directed by Gabrielle C. Burton and Maria Burton. Written by Gabrielle B. Burton. Produced by Charity Burton, Gabrielle C. Burton, Jennifer Burton, Maria Burton and Ursula Burton. An RS Entertainment release. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time

Tags: Starring Ursula Burton, Seymour Cassel, Shelley Duvall, Jill Eikenberry, Louise Fletcher, Frank Gorshin, Faye Grant, Harry Groener, Shirley Jones, Cloris Leachman, Wendie Malick and Austin Pendleton. Directed by Gabrielle C. Burton and Maria Burton. Written by Gabrielle B. Burton. Produced by Charity Burton, Gabrielle C. Burton, Jennifer Burton, Maria Burton, Ursula Burton, RS, Comedy
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