Here on Earth

(Mark Piznarski, USA, 2000)


Since the advent of television series like Dawson’s Creek and My So Called Life, teenagers on screen are no longer callow, hormonally driven, irresponsible creatures out for an ephemeral thrill.

Now they are pensive, philosophical, nature-loving, well-versed in cinematic and literary references. Love’s melancholy matters more to them than losing their virginity.

“We’re trying to portray young people and their relationships in a mature, realistic way,” testifies Mark Piznarski, director of the teen drama Here on Earth. Of course, this is just as much a fantasy – an adult projection – as the Porky’s-style antics of an earlier film craze. It’s nice to see youth depicted as grappling with emotions, ethics and responsibilities – but too much seriousness is grating.

Here on Earth is a moral tale all the way down the line, enlivened by a little teen yearning and Romeo and Juliet-style romance. Kelley (Chris Klein) is a snotty rich kid with little respect for anybody or anything. After smashing his car into a local diner, he finds himself living and working at the modest home of Jasper (Josh Hartnett) – a brooding, salt-of-the-earth type.

The central intrigue is generated from the star-crossed attraction that sparks between Kelley and Samantha (Leelee Sobieski), Jasper’s girlfriend. Apart from the fairly predictable contortions arising from this class-conflicted premise, Michael Seitzman’s script has one surprise up its sleeve – and it takes the second half of Here on Earth even deeper into angst-and-redemption territory.

This is a simple, transparent film, blessed with an appealing cast. Hartnett and Sobieski, especially, are good at furrowing their brows in a seemingly deep and introspective manner. Even at such a young age, they could fit right into a typical episode of thirtysomething. Klein, however, has a gangly, wiry energy which pulls away from all this sobriety, and makes one long for the likes of American Pie (1999).

© Adrian Martin July 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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