Heavy (film)

Heavy is a 1995 American drama film written and directed by James Mangold, in his directorial debut. It stars Liv Tyler, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Shelley Winters, and Deborah Harry. The plot focuses on an unhappy overweight cook (Vince) whose life is changed after an enchanting college drop-out (Tyler) begins working as a waitress at his and his mother's roadside tavern. The film explores themes of loneliness, false hope, unrequited love, and self-worth.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Mangold
Produced byRichard Miller
Written byJames Mangold
Music byThurston Moore
CinematographyMichael F. Barrow
Edited byMeg Reticker
Available Light Productions[1]
Distributed byCinépix Film Properties[1]
Release date
  • January 20, 1995 (1995-01-20) (Sundance)
  • June 5, 1996 (1996-06-05) (New York City)
  • June 28, 1996 (1996-06-28) (Los Angeles)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$941,414[2]

Mangold wrote the screenplay for Heavy while attending filmmaking seminars at Columbia University, and partly based it on real people who knew while growing up in upstate New York. Filming took place on location in and around Barryville and Hyde Park, New York in 1993; some scenes were filmed at the Culinary Institute of America's campus there.[lower-alpha 1] The film features an original soundtrack by Thurston Moore, as well as songs by Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, who also has a minor role in the film.

Heavy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize and was later screened at Cannes where it competed for the Caméra d'Or. The film received a theatrical release in the United Kingdom on December 29, 1995, and later had a limited release in the United States on June 5, 1996.


In rural upstate New York, thirty-something-year-old Victor Modino works as a cook at Pete and Dolly's, a small roadhouse founded by and named after his mother and late father. Dolly, who is in poor health, spends her days sitting in a chair in the back of the kitchen, reminiscing about her husband and antagonizing Delores, a cynical longtime employee who once had an affair with Pete. The daily rhythm of the restaurant is disrupted when Dolly hires Callie, a soft-spoken young woman who has just dropped out of college in Syracuse, as a new waitress. Callie immediately catches the eye of the painfully shy, overweight Victor.

Callie's presence is taken note of by the employees as well as the restaurant's regular patrons, particularly Leo, an alcoholic friend of Delores. During working hours, Callie is impervious to Victor's debilitating shyness, and she attempts to get to know him better. Impressed by Victor's cooking skills, Callie suggests he attend the cooking school across the river—the Culinary Institute of America—a thought which is considered by Victor but swiftly dismissed by both Dolly and Delores.

Victor quickly becomes enamored with Callie, and begins subtly vying for her attention. One night during work, Callie takes photographs in the kitchen with her Polaroid camera. She asks Victor to take a photo of her while she learns to roll pizza dough; he subsequently brings the photo home with him, unbeknownst to her. He later has vivid daydreams about Callie, one of which has him saving her from drowning in the Hudson River. One night after Callie gets into a fight with her boyfriend, Jeff, she is left stranded at the restaurant. Victor offers to drive her home, and en route he stops the car so they can watch airplanes descend at an airfield. As they watch the airplanes, Callie laments that she feels directionless in her life. She gives Victor a kiss before quickly suggesting he take her home.

The following morning, Dolly suffers a heart attack and is hospitalized. Victor tells Delores and Callie that Dolly has been hospitalized for a minor surgery, not wanting to cause panic. Several days later, Dolly dies while Victor is eating lunch in the hospital cafeteria. Victor continues to run the restaurant as usual, and deals with his grief by binge eating. Meanwhile, Delores becomes suspicious of Dolly's extended absence. Callie asks Victor to bring her to visit Dolly in the hospital. He agrees, but is unable to confess that she is dead. Callie arrives at their house, and notices the Polaroid photo of herself displayed on the refrigerator. When she inquires about where he got it, he tells her he found it behind a booth in the restaurant. The two leave, but instead of taking her to the hospital, Victor drives Callie to the local cemetery, and shows her Dolly's grave. Callie becomes hysterical, and fails to return for her following shift at the restaurant.

Victor's frustrations with his self-esteem surface several nights later while alone at the restaurant, and he begins binge eating. He stops himself, and begins smashing items behind the counter in a rage. In the middle of his outburst, Callie arrives with Jeff to collect her check. She spends several moments alone with Victor, explaining that she plans to return home and re-enroll in college, but promises to visit him and Delores. Some time later, Victor musters the confidence to chat with Darlene, a cashier at the grocery market he frequents.




Heavy was director James Mangold's directorial debut, as well as his first screenplay. According to Mangold, who grew up in the Hudson River Valley, he was inspired by a real-life classmate of his who was overweight, and whose mother owned a local diner; like in the film, the father had died, leaving the mother and son to run the restaurant themselves.[3] In directing his first feature, Mangold aspired to make a film stripped of "a certain Hollywood aesthetic,"[4] that followed a character who seemed a "most unlikely centerpiece of a motion picture."[5]

Mangold wrote the script for the film in 1991, while attending filmmaking seminars at Columbia University under the instruction of director Miloš Forman.[6] In making the movie, Mangold was very focused on expression versus dialogue, especially in the character of Victor; Mangold stated that he was striving to create a "silent film, with sound."[6] Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971) and Martin Ritt's Hud (1963) served as specific influences.[7]


Mangold met Liv Tyler when she was sixteen years old; Tyler had little to no acting history, but expressed great interest in it.[8] She had been doing modeling work at the time, and was cast in the film "without hesitation" after a brief video audition with Mangold.[9] Through Tyler, Mangold got in touch with Deborah Harry, who was well-acquainted with young Tyler through the "rock and roll" scene in New York (Tyler being the daughter of Aerosmith front-man Steven Tyler); this resulted in Harry's casting as the part of the weathered, back-mouthing Delores. Evan Dando of The Lemonheads was cast as Tyler's guitarist boyfriend because of Mangold's admiration for his music, and in hope of bringing some star attention to the low-budget production.[10]

Pixies frontman Black Francis was originally meant to be cast as the role of Victor, but did not feel it was right for a debut acting role.

In casting the part of Dolly, Mangold sought golden age Hollywood actress Shelley Winters, who was in her mid-70s at the time. Mangold tracked down her address to her Manhattan apartment, and sent her the film's script along with a letter stating his admiration of her work. Within two days, Winters returned Mangold's contact and was subsequently cast.[11]

The last person to be cast was Pruitt Taylor Vince, as Mangold had been having trouble finding an actor to portray the "centerpiece" character.[12] An associate producer/friend of Mangold, who had been shooting Nobody's Fool (1994) with Vince alongside Paul Newman, suggested him.[13] After Vince was cast, Mangold and the crew began feeding Vince doughnuts and Kentucky Fried Chicken in order for the actor, who was not remarkably overweight at the time, to rapidly gain weight before filming commenced.[14]


Heavy premiered in January 1995 at the Sundance Film Festival, where Mangold won the Special Jury Prize for directing.[15] It subsequently screened at the Cannes Film Festival Directors Fortnight, where it was nominated for the Caméra d'Or award.[16]

The film's distributor, Cinépix Film Properties, released the film theatrically in the United States after Tyler had received recognition for her starring role in Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (1996).[17] Cinépix released Heavy in the United States in the summer of 1996, premiering it in New York City on June 5, before it opened in Los Angeles on June 28.[1] The release was limited, expanding only to twenty-two screens nationwide.[2] The film concluded its domestic theatrical run on November 28, 1996.[2]

Critical response

Following the film's success at Sundance, it garnered generally positive reviews. Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, and remarked its sense of realism: "You've been in places like this. You linger over a second cup of coffee and people-watch, trying to guess the secrets of the sad-eyed waitress and the drunk at the bar and the pizza cook who looks like he's serving a sentence. You don't guess the true horror of the place, which is that there are no secrets, because everyone here knows all about everyone else, inside and out, top to bottom, and has for years."[18] A decade later, Ebert — reviewing Mangold's 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma — called Heavy "extraordinary."[19] Jay Carr of The Boston Globe praised the film as a "small gem [that] specifies a world and populates it with unerring authority and a sure instinct for character."[20] The Statesman Journal's Ron Cowan similarly lauded the film for its deliberate lack of dialogue, writing that Mangold "often eschews" it, "detailing his story with gestures, glances and touches. There is no sex, violence or cliched action or plot twists, just a sense that you're listening in on real life."[15] The New York Daily News's Jami Bernard described the film as a "slice of life" mood piece, praising Tyler's performance as "forceful," adding that "the film moves as carefully as Vincent [sic] himself, as if afraid to displace too many molecules at once. It's a welcome respite from the crash-bang movies of summer."[21] Barbara Creed of the Australian publication The Age noted the film as a "delicate and remarkable debut," and likened elements of it to the Carson McCullers novel The Ballad of the Sad Café.[22]

Critic James Berardinelli wrote that "Mangold captures the nuances of life perfectly, and, by never cheapening his vision through facile resolutions, he fashions a memorable cinematic portrait."[23] Berardinelli subsequently included the film in his book Reel Views: The Ultimate Guide to the Best 1,000 Modern Movies in 2005.[24] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called the film "a small, quiet miracle of a movie in which tenderness, compassion and insight combine to create a tension that yields a quality of perception that's almost painful to experience", comparing its cinematography to the work of R.W. Fassbinder, and remarking the effectiveness of Thurston Moore's score for the film.[25] Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Gate called the film "an act of faith in itself — an argument for the kind of subtle, humanistic traces that used to be familiar on screen but somehow became all too scarce,"[17] while Barbara Shulgasser of the San Francisco Chronicle noted: "There is nothing cutesy or gimmicky about Heavy, which may be why something in its grimness recalls the work of Ingmar Bergman."[6]

Other critics were less laudatory of the film, including Jeff Millar of the Houston Chronicle, who wrote: "Even at 80 minutes, Heavy would have been weighted with redundancies. So you can imagine what happened on the way to making it 105 minutes long."[26] Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune felt its portrayal of its characters was exploitative, noting: "Instead of the poetry of common people, Heavy romanticizes the mundane or grotesque. Mangold seems to be trying to revive some of the emotional quality of the late '40s-early '50s work of Southern Gothic writers like Carson McCullers, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. But presenting Victor as an exemplary sufferer–a wounded soul trapped in the body of a lovelorn pizza cook, with Farrah Fawcett posters in his bedroom–makes him a little ridiculous, without quite making him funny. In Heavy, the sensitivity is so thick, the characters can hardly breathe."[27]

The internet film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, as of 2019, has the film ranked at 86% fresh (or positive), with 24/28 reviews being in favor of the film.[26]

Home media

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released Heavy on DVD on September 21, 1999.[28]


Year Institute Category Nominee Result Ref.
1995 Cannes Film Festival Caméra d'Or James Mangold Nominated [16]
1995 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize James Mangold Won [15]
1995 Grand Jury Prize James Mangold Won [27]
1995 Grand Prix Asturias Best Screenplay James Mangold Won [29]
1995 Best Feature Gijón International Film Festival Heavy Won [30]


The soundtrack of the movie featured instrumental compositions by Thurston Moore among other songs. The soundtrack was released on CD on June 5, 1996 (the same day as the film's theatrical release in the United States) through TVT Records.[31]

Track listing

1."Victor and Callie"Thurston Moore1:32
2."Hot Coals"Evan Dando3:51
3."Pile Up"The Plimsouls3:24
4."Box Cars"Rosie Flores5:15
5."Undertow"T. Moore1:28
6."Frying Pan"E. Dando3:08
7."Carry Me"The Vidalias3:52
8."Howard Is A Drag"The Rake's Progress3:33
9."My Heart Belongs To Only One"Ben Vaughn3:08
10."California Thing"Freedy Johnston3:00
11."Kissing On The Bridge"T. Moore1:15
12."Lost"The Plimsouls3:59
13."'74–'75"The Connells4:37
14."The Dream of Sarah"Eleni Mandell2:46
15."How Much I've Lied"E. Dando2:10
16."Spinning Goodbye"T. Moore3:16
17."Culinary Institute"T. Moore3:19


  1. The Culinary Institute is featured throughout the film, identified by its sign in front of the building; interior locations are also used.


  1. "Heavy (1995)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Los Angeles, California: American Film Institute. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019.
  2. "Heavy (1996)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
  3. Mangold 1999, 3:45–5:20.
  4. Levy 1999, p. 302.
  5. Mangold 1999, 2:00.
  6. Shulgasser, Barbara (July 12, 1996). "'Heavy' carries itself with rare subtlety". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved March 22, 2010.
  7. Mangold 1999, 7:58.
  8. Mangold 1999, 13:28.
  9. Mangold 1999, 13:55.
  10. Mangold 1999, 13:40.
  11. Mangold 1999, 15:10–17:25.
  12. Mangold 1999, 20:03.
  13. Mangold 1999, 21:00.
  14. Mangold 1999, 21:10–22:30.
  15. Cowan, Ron (October 4, 1996). "Low-budget film has 'Heavy' message". Statesman Journal. Salem, Oregon. p. 58 via Newspapers.com.
  16. Variety Staff (May 1, 1995). "Rookies reign in Fortnight". Variety. Archived from the original on April 18, 2015.
  17. Guthmann, Edward (July 12, 1996). "'Heavy's' Light Take on Life / Liv Tyler makes sparks fly for lonely pizza chef". San Francisco Gate. Retrieved March 23, 2010.
  18. Ebert, Roger (August 16, 1996). "Heavy movie review". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved October 9, 2009.
  19. Ebert, Roger (September 6, 2007). "3:10 to Yuma". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on July 13, 2016.
  20. Carr, Jay (July 12, 1996). "'Heavy' is loaded with potent charm". The Boston Globe. Boston, Massachusetts. p. 52 via Newspapers.com.
  21. Bernard, Jami (June 5, 1996). "Slice of Life, 'Heavy' on the Mood". New York Daily News. p. 95 via Newspapers.com.
  22. Creed, Barbara (June 28, 1996). "Film: Heavy". The Age. Melbourne, Victoria. p. 44 via Newspapers.com.
  23. Berardinelli, James (1996). "Review: Heavy". Reel Reviews. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019.
  24. Berardinelli 2005, p. 236.
  25. Thomas, Kevin (June 28, 1996). "'Heavy'- Sensitive Tale of Ordinary Lives". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 5, 2013.
  26. "Heavy". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 8, 2019.
  27. Wilmington, Michael (August 16, 1996). "Anti-Hollywood Drama 'Heavy' Weighed Down By Its Own Sensitivity". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019.
  28. Heavy (DVD). 1999 [1995]. ASIN B00000K3TT.
  29. "Mangold, James (1964–)". Encyclopedia.com. Gale Group. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019.
  30. "Heavy". Festival Internacional de Cine de Gijón. September 2, 2012. Archived from the original on April 7, 2019.
  31. "Heavy Soundtrack". Amazon. Retrieved April 8, 2019.


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