Set in a Catholic Boys' School in Brookly in the 1960s, Heaven Help Us takes the standard elements of any "coming of age" movie and bakes it in the greenhouse effect created by teenage rebellion coming up against overly strict monks. It benefits from a nice sense of time and place, an enjoyable soundtrack and a cast of '80s favourites.
Andrew McCarthy plays Michael Dunn, the new boy at the school who quickly has to learn how to fit in. He befriends Caesar (Malcolm Danare) and that seems to be his first mistake when he sees how Caesar is treated by the bullying Rooney (Kevin Dillon). Thankfully, the boys don't stay enemies for too long because they have a common foe in the shape of the monks running the school. Brother Thaddeus (Donald Sutherland) seems a bit strict when speaking to the boys, but isn't all that bad, and Brother Timothy (John Heard) is new to the school and pretty damn cool for a monk, but Brother Constance (Jay Patterson) is a real nasty piece of work, always ready to dish out punishments far outweighing any perceived crime. When out of school, the boys try to relax and enjoy time at a local hangout, where Michael meets Dani (Mary Stuart Masterson), but the hangout is not safe from the monks, who often raid the building as they attempt to catch wrongdoers.
Michael Dinner directs this charming slice of teenage turbulence, from a script by Charles Purpura, and he takes the standard storyline and mix of characters and elevates them with a superb cast. As well as those already mentioned there are roles for Shawn Wallace, Yeardley Smith, Patrick Dempsey and Stephen Geoffreys (stealing the show as a young man addicted to onanism).
Kevin Dillon may not be the best of the leading players, but his slightly weaker performance is compensated for by the work from everyone else involved. McCarthy is in great form here, especially during the powerful and pleasing final act, and Mary Stuart Masterson is wonderful, as usual (okay, I had a crush on her in the '80s, so sue me). Malcolm Danare is fine in his role while John Heard does such good work that it's a shame he didn't get more screen-time. Indeed, it's a shame that he didn't get many more roles like this one to remind people of how good he could be.
It's a tricky film to track down on this side of the pond (but it's also on YouTube in sections for those who cannot afford, or are unable, to get the DVD) but it's one worth trying to get hold of, even for just the one viewing to see if you agree or disagree with those who really like it.