Screenplay : Tom Sierchio
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1993
Stars : Christian Slater (Adam), Marisa Tomei (Caroline), Rosie Perez (Cindy), Kyle Secor (Howard), Willie Garson (Patsy), Claudia Wilkens (Mother Camilla), Joe Minjares (Jim)
"Untamed Heart" is a modern romantic fable that tells the story of two broken people who find each other when they are most in need. It's touching in the simplicity of its age-old story, and heart-warming in the way it knows and loves its characters, who are blue-collar, common people normally overlooked or misrepresented in Hollywood.
When we first meet Adam (Christian Slater) he is a young boy living in an orphanage. Since birth he has had heart problems, and the head nun (Claudia Wilkens) tells him a story about how his father gave him a new heart from the chest of the Great Baboon King. Everyone is always afraid Adam will die, and he is constantly alone because he can't play with the other children for health reasons. He spends his days staring out the window, watching other children get adopted, while he is more and more shut out of the world.
Twenty years later we meet Caroline (Marisa Tomei) when she is getting dumped . . . again. You see, she has a bad penchant for dating less-than-stellar men who always end up leaving her at inopportune times. Caroline still lives at home and works as a waitress in an all-night diner. She is surrounded by colorful co-workers including Cindy (Rosie Perez) and Jim, the owner of the restaurant (Joe Minjares). Cindy and Jim have an amusing, antagonistic relationship that culminates in lines like, "You are like wet sand in my underwear." The restaurant scenes were filmed in an actual diner in Minneapolis, giving these sequences a real-life look and feel that is essential to the film's balance of fairy tale and gritty reality.
Adam works as a busboy at the restaurant. His lonely childhood has made him quiet and introverted to the point where his co-workers wonder if he can even speak. He is secretly in love with Caroline, and we find out that he follows her when she walks home every night to make sure she arrives okay. Because he doesn't have the social graces to approach her, the only means he has of expressing his feelings is to quietly protect her from a distance. There is one scene is particular with Adam watching Caroline through the window, and the look on his face is more than enough to let us know how enamored he is of her.
That changes late one night when Adam saves Caroline from an attempted rape. The scene plays out like something from a fairy tale, with Caroline as the damsel in distress and Adam as the knight in shining armor. But, once again, the film says everything without saying a word when it shows Adam wrap her in his coar, carry her home, put her on the front porch swing at her house, and then wait for her in the cold until she awakes. And when she does, he leaves without a word because he doesn't know what to say. He only wants to make her happy.
Caroline, who has spent her whole life trying to make her shallow boyfriends happy, realizes the beauty of Adam's selfless heart. I don't think she falls in love with him because he saved her, but because she realizes how pure he is and how much he loves her. The film takes its time developing the relationship between Adam and Caroline, but it feels right because the characters always act true to themselves. When Cindy asks Caroline why she fell for Adam, she sums it up by saying, "We make sense. I don't make sense, he doesn't make sense, but together we make sense."
The fact is, they do make sense. Although they seem to be opposites, Adam and Caroline fill in empty spaces in each other's lives. While Caroline's exuberant and outgoing personality helps bring Adam out of his shell, his innocence and naivete softens all the calluses she's developed from past relationships. The film knows that they're perfect for each other, even though everybody else thinks their relationship is just weird.
"Untamed Heart" contains a number of poignant scenes, including a brief touching of hands on an escalator in a shopping mall, as well as a haircut that leads to one of the most believable intimate moments I've ever seen. The way Adam and Caroline touch is so shy and so affectionate that it is both poignant and utterly truthful. Another great scene is a small moment when Adam is lamenting that the doctors want to perform a heart transplant on him to ensure his life. "Your heart is diseased, you need a new one," Caroline tells him. "But this is my heart," he says. "I'm afraid that if they take it away, I won't be able to love you the same." In taking the old adage "I love you with all my heart" at face value, Adam shows he is an innocent in the truest sense, and it is his unwavering sincerity that makes him so affecting.
The film, directed by Tony Bill ("My Bodyguard," "Five Corners") from a script by first-time screenwriter Tom Sierchio, does have its moments where it indulges a little too much in potential schmaltz. But, on the whole, it's a beautifully crafted, life-affirming film about the power of true love, and how two unlikely people can make each other whole. It's calculated to go straight to the softest part of your heart, and only someone with the mentality of a Scrooge could not be affected in some way.
©1997 James Kendrick