When college professor Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) arrives in Reno in 1959 to get a quickie divorce, the last thing on her mind is romance. A prim intellectual, crippled by a sterile marriage ("We're a professional couple")... more » and hiding behind her education, she moves into a ranch belonging to Frances Parker (Audra Lindley) and tries to keep to herself. But Parker's beautiful, sassy tomboy of a stepdaughter proves to be quite a distraction, and a love affair slowly blossoms. Cay (Patricia Charbonneau) refuses to be bound by convention or by expectations of how a nice girl should behave, and her devil-may-care attitude both attracts and terrifies the nervous professor. Shaver is terrific as Vivian, and the slow thawing of her character is beautifully paced--you can feel the tension break when she finally lets down her guard. Another strong performance comes from Audra Lindley as Frances. She's a tough old bird with a drinking problem, but Lindley keeps the character from descending into stereotype, and she gives full rein to the tragic side of this lonely woman, especially as she struggles with her reaction to the developing relationship between Cay and Vivian. There are scenes in Desert Hearts that would be painfully clichéd if they appeared in a heterosexual romance, and even here they only just escape that fate--relying a little too much on significant glances and lines that just don't sound like real conversation. Nevertheless, first-time director Deitch breathes new life into a standard straight-arrow-meets-free-spirit plot, and steadfastly refuses to turn this love story into an "issues movie." Add to that a strong feel for the period and a soundtrack filled with the likes of Patsy Cline and Gene Vincent, and the result is a warm, well-acted film that packs a real emotional punch. --Simon Leake« less
Michael J. Mazza | Pittsburgh, PA USA | 05/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Desert Hearts," directed by Donna Deitch, opens in Reno, Nevada in 1959. The film, which is based on a novel by Jane Rule, tells the story of Vivian (played by Helen Shaver), a prim-and-proper college professor who has come to Nevada to get a divorce. There she meets Cay (Patricia Charbonneau), a lusty, free-spirited casino worker. The relationship between these two beautiful women is the focus of the film."Desert Hearts" is a wonderful film. It's very erotic, tender, and moving. The women's story is complemented by excellent production values and effective use of period music. The performances are superb all around. The leads are backed by a great supporting cast; Audra Lindley is particularly good in a zesty, touching performance as Cay's stepmother. But it's the powerful chemistry between Shaver and Charbonneau which ultimately drives the film. Every scene between them is one to be savored.The DVD version of the film includes a fascinating feature-length commentary track by director Deitch. She discusses the original novel, her own relationship with novelist Rule, the casting process, the music of the film, key scenes, and much more. Particularly fascinating is the window she offers into the financial realities of independent filmmaking."Desert Hearts" is about romantic love between two women. It's also about a mother-daughter relationship and about friendship between women. The beautiful scenes of the land and horses as well as the casino scenes give added appeal to the story of these interconnected relationships. I highly recommend this enjoyable and touching film."
The Bonus Disc - Info
turtlex | PA USA | 06/06/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Most people purchasing this item have seen the film. Desert Hearts is a contemporary classic and ahead of it's time when first released. It's a standard now in most every gay-girls DVD collection. This newly released two-disc edition includes some bonus materials.
I'll review the bonus disc as there are plenty of well written reviews of the actual film.
1. The "never before seen footage" of the famous love scene. This is the first bonus item on the extra disc. It is NOT a re-cut extended scene. This is the raw footage from, argueably, the most famous lesbian love scene ever. We are not necessarily given more content, but simply the same content from different angles, over multiple takes.
2. Commentary by director Donna Deitch. Fun and informative.
3. Interviews with the two main stars by director Deitch. To me, this feature is worth the price of this collection. Donna Deitch interviews both Patricia Charbonneau ( Cay ) and Helen Shaver ( Vivian ). These are one-on-one sessions which recall memories of filming and, more importantly, the impact the film had on both actresses. These interview sessions were done in March 2007. The only thing that might have made them more interesting would have been if the actresses had actually been reunited for the interviews. They are each interviewed, separately, by Deitch. While both actresses are fun to watch, it is Helen Shaver and her insights that are the most rewarding.
4. The Theatrical Trailer - This is actually interesting because, while the film hold up strongly, the trailer comes across as rather dated.
All in all, I'd recommend this set. It's a wonderful film, and the bonus disc will add a nice dimension to viewing it again."
Stole My Heart
turtlex | 10/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I loved this movie! It is my all-time, favorite lesbian love story. More recent films have touted themselves as having eclipsed this story, but frankly, I have not yet seen a lesbian film that is better than this one. Yeah, this film has some hokey parts. I do not like the way that director, Donna Deitch suddenly fades to black as a transitioning technique. I do, however, like the 1950's vocal music in the background. The music mirrors the mood of the film and of the characters. I also liked the authenticity of the film in terms its 1950's setting. I liked the old cars and the old clothes and the old slot machines. Even the leather couch and the cowboy-patterned dishes hasten back to the 1950's. I especially liked the performance of Helen Shaver as Vivian Bell, the uptight eastern professor who comes to Reno for a quickie divorce. I had seen her in movies before but it took this movie for me to recognize the depth of her talent. Audra Lindley (AKA, TV's Mrs. Roper from Three's Company) is also excellent. I never really knew where the Audra Lindley character was coming from, even though I have probably seen the film at least ten times. I think that not understanding the character's full motivation is part of the intrigue of her performance; you're never really sure where her true affections lie. The interplay between the two main characters is awesome. It is wonderful to see the attraction grow and to see the younger character's boldness and both character's vulnerability. I give credit to the writer, director and actresses for the authenticity with which they recreated the awkward and often tentative moments of new love. If you never buy or see another lesbian film, buy and see this one."
The lesbian classic that raised the bar!
Iryshkidd | California | 02/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the definitive lesbian love story that launched the genre in a new direction. This wonderful love story brings lesbian love into the light of day with beautiful women, looking and acting sexy, and leading productive, respectable lives. Vivian arrives in Reno to get a divorce, and meets free-spirited, self-assured Cay. The Reno landscape in the 50's is a great backdrop for the conflicts that lesbians encounter. This is a story about romantic love between women, mother-daughter relationship, and friendship. The filming is top notch, the sets and period clothing are spot on. The musical scores (50's country and western) are superb and the cast was wonderful! Charbonneau and Shavers are sensational as total opposites who eventually become drawn and attrated to each other. Just a masterful duette of performances! Cay, free and fully out, forward and knowing just what she wants; Vivian, tentative and reluctant to step outside of her cultured and closed box. Every minute they spend with each other oozes electricity and sexual tension. Two georgeous women making love?? HELLO! The love scene is landmark. Audra Lindley is wonderful and perfectly cast as Cay's stepmom. Cay's best friend, Silver, is absolutely a key (and skintillating!) role in the dynamics of these characters; she is the definative support and validation that these women are wonderful people, and deserve love and happiness. We all need a little "Silver" in our lives!! This story is completely intriguing, and HEY, what a wonderful ending! SEQUEL, SEQUEL!!! This is an absolute must have in any collection. Timeless tale of the beauty of lesbian love."
The Quintessential "L" Love Story
J. Johnston | Houston, Texas | 11/18/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is a crime this movie has not been re-released. It is an absolute must have, must be seen by both older and younger crowds. It is beautifully told and directed. Timeless, classic piece. We all need to email the current owners of this movie and get it back out in the public eye."