8/10
Reminds us of what is really important in life
16 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
If you enjoyed Mitch Albom's Tuesdays With Morrie, you will be pleased that his latest work, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, does not suffer in comparison. A made-for-TV movie, released this February on DVD, Five People is about how each person we meet, though appearing insignificant, are part of the vast web of interconnection that affects our life. Jon Voight plays Eddie, an 83-year old mechanic who has worked at the Ruby Pier Amusement Park all his life except for a stint in the army during World War II. The first thing we learn about Eddie is that he is dead, killed in a roller coaster accident while trying to save a little girl.

The next thing we find out is that, in heaven, Eddie will meet and talk with five people who were the most influential in his life, people Eddie would probably not think of first, but whose influence becomes slowly and painstakingly revealed. As he re-experiences traumatic events from the past, it soon becomes clear that what they share with him allows him to complete and illuminate the past. Eddie meets "The Blue Man" (Jeff Daniels), part of the sideshow at the park, his Army captain (Michael Imperioli), his wife Marguerite (Dagmara Dominczyk) who died after only a few years of marriage, the wife of the original owner of the Ruby Pier (Ellen Burstyn), and a little Filipino girl named Tala (Nicaela and Shelbie Weigel).

Each shows him how he impacted their life or they his--and not always for the better. (In these flashbacks, Callahan Brebner and Steven Grayhm play the young Eddie.). As Eddie's wartime experiences are dramatized as well as his romance and courtship with Marguerite, we learn a great deal about Eddie including the unfulfilled dreams of his youth and his subsequent disillusionment. Like Sidney Lumet's 1982 film Daniel, Kramer uses color to distinguish between past and present: black and white for the past, blue for the present, and orange for heaven. The film allows us to realize that life is not a series of random events without meaning or purpose, but that everything happens for a reason and that it is important to communicate with those we may have hurt, forgive others, and refrain from superficial and wrong-headed judgments.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is not for those who enjoy layers of complexity in their films or those looking for stylistic innovation. It is a simple story, imaginatively told and the acting and the direction far exceed what we have come to identify with TV movies of the week. The only real drawback is the sound quality that ranges from inaudible to overly loud. Some of the sentiment may be a little saccharine at times, but it is earned and there is no attempt to create emotion where none exists. I found The Five People You Meet in Heaven to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience that, like Dickens Christmas Carol, reminds us of what is really important in life.
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