Love means never having to say you’re recycling plot material. Here on Earth, a determinedly old-fashioned young persons’ weepie, wants to be an antidote to the roguish doings in such sexpot teen romps as Wild Things and Cruel Intentions. I say wants to be because despite the bucolic setting (green Minnesota passing as the verdant Berkshires), the small-town esprit (the home team is called the Mudhens), and the repeated quoting of Robert Frost’s oh-sensitive-me poem ”Birches,” the dubious lessons of this teen-love tragedy are these: (1) Unruly passion can make a girl weak in the knees, literally; (2) choosing between two men is harmful to one’s health; (3) townies always know more about what’s important in life than gownies; (4) one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
And although homilies about love and loss, and the rinsing pleasures of a good movie cry, are always welcome, something there is that doesn’t love a cliche.
I should point out that despite warning-sign dialogue such as ”Dr. Falco called to confirm your appointment tomorrow,” the girlfriend in question, Samantha (Leelee Sobieski), is as spirited as a gazelle. Her cute dad (Bruce Greenwood) is the local sheriff; her cute boyfriend, Jasper (Josh Hartnett), is the local farmer’s kid who’s known her since childhood. But Kelley (Chris Klein) is cuter. He’s a snotty but redeemable preppy at the local boarding school who swaggers into the diner where Samantha works, falls for her lovely eyebrows and soft voice (and she for his), gets into a drag race with Jasper, and accidentally destroys the restaurant.
I shall be telling this with a sigh: Kelley’s punishment — helping to rebuild what he’s ruined, while living with Jasper and his family — is supposed to reconstruct character, too. And of course, it does. Hard labor among honest working folk, fresh air, and a blooming teen girlfriend can make even the cockiest, loneliest, most badly parented Richie Rich learn the value of intimacy. What’s more apparent, though, at least as directed by TV helmer Mark Piznarski (Relativity) from a simplistic script by Michael Seitzman, is the importance of velvety lighting on Klein’s handsome torso and Sobieski’s sincere face. Both promising actors gleam with the luster of fine recent performances (he in Election and American Pie, she in Eyes Wide Shut and Never Been Kissed), but neither is up to carrying such a lip trembler of a tale without inadvertently inviting laughter at key moments. (Among the unfortunate miscalculations: During a modest lovers-in-the-grass scene, Kelley names one of Samantha’s breasts New Jersey, the other New York.)
Whose woods these are I think I know: They belong to Romeo and Juliet, Love Story, Dawson’s Creek, and One Life to Live. Here on Earth takes the road more traveled, and that has made all the difference.