The big picture
- Warren Beatty originally wanted Muhammad Ali to play the lead Heaven Can Waitbut had to switch the main character to soccer instead.
- Warren Beatty is a brilliant actor in the film, portraying a kind-hearted athlete and a health junkie with monstrous charisma.
- Greta Gerwig was inspired by Heaven Can Wait for her movie Barbieespecially his humanism and his artistic orientation.
In 2023, it’s hard to overstate what a legacy it is Warren Beatty founded in its heyday. However, if 1978 had had his way, his directorial debut would have been very different Muhammad Ali in the middle no less. Heaven Can Wait is an adaptation of Harry Segallis the play of the same name (which was actually remade in 2001). Chris Rock as the main cast), but numerous changes have been made outside of the title in this update to a fantasy sports drama. Warren Beatty, nominated for nine Oscars including best picture, came to the fore with his star power and seemed to have paid off. However, it’s always fun to think about “what ifs,” especially when that “what ifs” involves one of the greatest sports legends to have ever existed.
Co-Director: Buck Henry, Heaven Can Wait follows Joe Pendleton, a health-obsessed backup quarterback for the LA Rams who is taken to heaven a little too early when an eager guardian angel decides to spare him the suffering of an imminent car accident, unaware that he would have actually missed the cars. In an attempt to correct their mistake, Mr. Jordan (an apparent metaphor for God, represented by James Masons) and the guardian angel in question went in search of another body for Joe to inhabit. Joe wants an athletic body but unfortunately (or not so unluckily) has to settle for that of billionaire Leo Farnsworth, who was recently murdered by his wife Julia (Dyan Cannon) and Secretary Tony (Charles Grodin). There is a lot going on! Between Joe’s quest to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl, even in his new body, and his wife and secretary’s increasingly insane assassination attempts, it’s remarkable that the script remains so low key but with the criminally underappreciated themes Elaine May As a co-author on board, everything is possible!
“Heaven Can Wait” was originally intended to star Muhammad Ali
To fully understand the production process Heaven Can WaitIt’s worth taking a look at the changes that were made to the cinema’s source material and carried over into the film, among other things Here comes Mr. Jordan In 1941 he won the Oscars for Best Story and Best Screenplay (at a time when those two professions seemed, interestingly, separate). The original play and film is actually about a boxer of the same name and a similar storyline that prompted Beatty to do it courts his good friend Muhammed Ali for the role. The two reportedly maintained a strong friendship and enjoyed going out to lunch to see who more people would recognize among two icons of their respective fields in a cute game. Ali turned down the role due to his boxing commitments (those are the things champions are made of, after all), forcing Beatty to transform the main character into a soccer character and play him himself.
While Ali’s fame was the biggest draw for audiences in this film, Muhammad Ali was no stranger to the entertainment industry. In fact, the 1977 heavyweight champion had just been released The biggest, based on his own autobiography, plays himself to chronicle his stratospheric rise to stardom, incorporating his religious conversion and abstinence from the Vietnam War, and depicting his battle scenes using his own archival footage. Ali’s other brief but notable appearances include a starring role as a former slave opposite Kris Kristofferson in the 1979 historical drama miniseries freedom streetwhile before that in 1969 Ali became the star of the Broadway musical Buck White. The musical briefly ran when Ali lost his boxing license for refusing to fight in Vietnam. However, given the controversial subject matter of a black militancy meeting, it’s safe to say that Ali believed in the importance of the few roles to play he portrayed.
What does Warren Beatty do best in Heaven Can Wait?
Let’s face it: Warren Beatty may be a handsome guy, but his skills behind the camera are just as commendable. As an actor, Bonnie and Clyde Speaking for itself, the man also starred in one of the greatest Westerns of all time and then directed true classics like… Red And Dick Tracy (Sorry to any children who witness their traumatizing cement baths.) For Heaven Can Wait, As a producer, his star power made it easy for him to get guest appearances from several real football players, but also made it possible to shoot real football games, making the final battle for the Super Bowl trophy all the more exciting and realistic made.
What Warren Beatty really shines, however, is his role as a star who creates the perfect mix of a kind-hearted athlete with no interest whatsoever in fame or the superficial elements of a sports star and a clueless goofy health junkie. True to the physicality such a performance demands, there’s hardly a moment when Beatty isn’t running somewhere, moving through his new mansion with the vigor of a perpetually jogging track star. Despite such an exaggerated premise, however, the film remains grounded. In the words from Greta Gerwig: “It’s an extremely challenging concept, but it’s always human. There’s nothing about it that makes you feel distanced from it.” And of course there’s always Elaine May to thank, but no matter how carefully the film’s particular brand of black comedy and athletic idealism is written, it would wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t for the gigantic charisma that Beatty has to offer in abundance.
How did Heaven Can Wait inspire Greta Gerwig’s Barbie?
There is a little movie called Barbie which is currently grossing billions at the box office, and director Greta Gerwig has been open about her influences in creating her own genre-bending phenomenon. Chief among them is Warren Beatty Heaven Can Wait, which she viewed for the aforementioned humanism that underscores every crazy happening, but also for its artistic direction, for which Beatty’s film won an Oscar. Gerwig credited the scene in which Joe almost ascends into the sky as a particular source of inspiration for some of the elements in Barbieland, as this version of the sky features beautiful fluffy clouds that remain fixed to the ground. Gerwig wanted to emulate the aesthetic before realizing with the cameraman Rodrigo Prieto that it was made of dry ice and could not be reached.
One of the best shots of Heaven Can Wait combines both Warren Beatty’s physicality and his portrayal of the sky, for while he waits in purgatory he does push-ups and keeps showing himself off under those comically fluffy clouds. It’s a great example of using his physicality for comedy and character at the same time, showing what a health freak he is by ridiculing his character and not overly masculinizing it (something that… Barbie is all for it). It’s safe to say without Heaven Can Wait, Ryan Gosling would have had one less character to base his iconic Ken performance on, because nothing gets audiences pumped like a lovable himbo.
While Muhammad Ali’s warmth and charisma would certainly have suited him brilliantly for the role that eventually went to Beatty, audiences can rest assured that a film as delicate and absurd as… Heaven Can Wait even exists. It’s a powerful and underrated collaboration between an old guard of Hollywood stars, spanning so many genres they might as well create their own. Cute in all the right places, but not afraid to joke about death It’s a beautiful lifeBeatty’s sports-fantasy-screwball-romance-drama is best described in one word: magic.