The Closest Thing to Heaven may be just that, especially for those of us who live in Charlotte, NC, where the film is set. It is a quirky, heartfelt, and at times magical foray into life in the underbelly of the city, away from the slick banking centers and pro-sports arenas the city planners would prefer to hype. While it may not have quite the polish of a big feature film, it makes up in humor and charm what it may lack anywhere else. The characters inhabiting the five interwoven tales are alternately just silly enough to deny them a place in the "real world," and just sincere enough to firmly touch the heart and stir the soul. Likewise, their situations (ranging from an unwillingly nursing-home bound Greek restaurant owner who is advised by his dead wife, to a sibling pair who independently add the death of their mother to the growing list of low points of their day) are slices of a life so ordinary and incredible that they edify without patronizing and amuse without degrading. Uniting the disparate stories is Howard, a bicycle-riding Southern Gentleman in a White Suit who, as a narrator, chats to us as he unhurriedly pedals his way through their stories and lives, offering us quirky trivia on local history, and advice (and at least once, the thrilling combination of headache powder and ginger ale) to the characters who most need his almost angelic shoulder to cry on. Although lines and scenes from the movie have found themselves surviving in catch phrases in my daily conversation ("We go!"), what impressed me the most upon a recent viewing were the subtle but insistent images of transportation, of moving on and being better for the journey. After being accompanied by a sometimes raucous and rowdy Bluegrass score, it is still a movie you suspect will end like the sound of a lonely train whistle somewhere in the distance: mournful perhaps, but also a peaceful and joyous reminder that this life really is the closest thing to heaven. And that's a very good thing.
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