Heavenly Creatures, The Musical! Jamming, 06/05/2014

No, I did not have an idea to adapt Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures into a rousing, jaunty broadway musical. Although if my theatre career goes well after You Were My Friend, I’ll consider finding a composer with whom I can collaborate. 

Seriously, though. I watched the film again for the first time since high school when I’d regularly stay home on Saturday nights watching arty movies on Showcase, also home of the Trailer Park Boys, and of every good Canadian boy’s first erotic experience via Red Shoe Diaries reruns. Heavenly Creatures was, of course, a brilliant portrayal of how an atmosphere of cultural, psychological, and moral repression can turn young people to violence when they are broken down to the point where no other solution appears possible. The film is almost two decades old, so I don’t really have to go into what you can pick up from the general discourse about it anyway.

What I loved about this film was that it was essentially an
intense love story whose cultural context forced it to go
horribly, terribly wrong.
No, what I thought of this time was a mad proposal for any of my friends (including myself) thinking about diversifying their creative careers into television production down the line. Because if a story with a premise like that of Heavenly Creatures were to take place today, it wouldn’t be the twisted, psychologically tormented tragedy that the film depicts. And remember, this is pretty much the literal adaptation of a real-life murder, so it’s closest to the essence of the real culture of 1950s New Zealand as you can get without really being there. Maybe even it’s an improvement on being there, because cinema is necessarily so much more intense than real life in its narratives. 

The basic premise of Heavenly Creatures is that two young women in secondary school, who are social outcasts for their own peculiar reasons, combinations of health problems and social awkwardness, find each other and gradually fall in love through their common imagination. If this were to happen today, it would be a story of formal and informal discrimination, but there would be so much more hope for them. They would never have reached tragedy, either from at least one set of supportive parents and some friendly school-mates in the local gay-straight alliance club. 

So here is my basic pitch for my adaptation of Heavenly Creatures into a contemporary setting on perhaps Netflix-style streaming television. Two women, who are social outcasts for reasons of health and outrageous personalities, make friends in their uptight, especially conformist school. This first setting is in Florida, where Julia’s father is an administrator in a local state university, and Yvette comes from a lower-middle class family. But the two girls become friends and eventually lovers. 

Julia’s father and mother split up as his wife begins an affair with a local man, and Yvette’s parents are increasingly uncomfortable with their eldest daughter’s homosexual tendencies, as they like to call it. But perhaps Yvette’s father is a little more open to the idea of having a gay daughter. Perhaps he sometimes visits his brother, who his wife doesn’t like to speak with, and his common-law husband. And maybe, despite his wife being uncomfortable about their daughter’s relationship with this odd, assertive Canadian girl, Yvette’s father can understand, because when you talk about a gay person, he thinks of his brother. And he isn’t the type of man who wouldn’t be able to understand his own brother. 

So one day, Julia’s father and mother split up, and he gets the chance to return to a teaching position in Toronto. Yvette and Julia are ridiculously in love with each other and don’t want to separate. But Yvette’s father sees a way to get his oldest child out of the mediocre public school system where she’s stuck in Tallahassee. And on that point of the better education she could get in Toronto, he convinces Yvette’s mother to let her go with her girlfriend’s family back north. The rest of the series becomes a dramatic sitcom, where the lower-class Floridian Yvette has to get used to this strangely familiar yet alien culture of Canada. Meanwhile, she and her Julia are both navigating their first adult relationship at 17, and Julia’s father is the nebbishy head of the household trying to navigate a divorce and having a lesbian couple to raise. Meanwhile, they have to traverse their class divide and fully comprehend their sexualities at the same time, while their joint father feels continually out of touch and inadequate to the whole situation, which is more than he thought he’d ever have to deal with.

I think I can get at least one ten episode season out of that. Instead of an intense melodrama of the Fassbinder tradition, we have a subtle dramadey of the Mike Leigh tradition. An affirmative, optimistic story of the modern era that tells of personally difficult times and problems that are, with dedication, overcome. And maybe I could create a television show, or a play, or a novel that would help keep just a few troubled young women from going through the kind of personal torture that leads to modern tragedies of suicide or self-harm in the first place.

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