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Dying Young Review

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Hilary O'Neil is looking for a new home and a new job after her boyfriend cheats on her, so she takes up a position as a live-in nurse for a man dying of cancer. Gradually the two of them develop feelings for each other, but all seems doomed…

★★★★

Take a rich boy and a poor girl, give one of them a terminal illness, drip slurpy string music all over the soundtrack, have them cavort in wonderful costumes around beautiful surroundings and throw in high-art references, and you have Love Story rethought for the 90s, with the rich guy going bald from leukaemia chemotherapy this time and the poor girl sticking by him to the last, and Julia Roberts demonstrating her undeniable star power and unerring eye for truly terrible scripts.

The Big Mouth is Hilary O'Neil, an uneducated working girl hired by wealthy sickie Victor Geddes (Scott) to brighten up his dreary life of drugs, vomiting and studying art history. Naturally, lurve blossoms (or festers), and the couple run away to Northern California and a picturesque cottage where he can teach her about Klimt, she can decide to start sleeping with him, and the audience can predict the rest of the picture from the big box of morphine in the bottom drawer.

Dying Young was a strong candidate for the Worst Film Of 1991. Avoiding all the obvious shortcuts like being a sequel or a low-budget slasher film, it manages to be absolutely excruciating on a big budget, with a talented cast, an agonisingly contrived visual style and a supposedly sure-fire premise. If nothing else, this ought to be a three-hankie weeper for patrons who leave their brains behind, but actually all the emotional contrivances and tearful scenes turn annoyingly gigglesome as the paper thin characters whine at each other.

Both Scott (Longtime Companion) and Roberts (Steel Magnolias) have gone the terminal illness route before, but at least those movies had the nerve not to trot out the pie-in-the-sky upbeat conclusion Dying Young infuriatingly winds up with.

Joel Schumacher, certainly the worst bankable director in Hollywood, appeared to be Roberts' favourite megaphone man around this time, but thankfully for her career longevity she branched out after this. Judging by her performance here - all long legs in close-up and choked-back tears - and her selection of Flatliners (another Schumacher dog) and Sleeping With The Enemy as vehicles, La Robba narrowly avoided following the Ali McGraw career path to obscurity.

Donate the ticket money you would have spent to medical research, and stay home.

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