Untamed Heart is a 1993 American romantic drama film starring Christian Slater and Marisa Tomei. It tells the story of a young woman, always unlucky in love, finally finding true love in a very shy young man. The film is directed by Tony Bill and written by Tom Sierchio. The original music score is composed by Cliff Eidelman, and includes a classical interpretation of "Nature Boy".
Caroline (Tomei) is a young woman in the Minneapolis/St Paul area working as a waitress and attending beauty school part-time who is always unlucky in love. Adam (Slater) is a loner/shy busboy who saves Caroline when two men try to rape her on her way home one night. She then gets to know him. They become close, but she finds out his past, and the attackers come after Adam for revenge. They end up stabbing him.
While Adam is recovering in the hospital, Caroline discovers that he has a heart defect, though he claims he has a baboon heart, based on a story loving nuns told him at the orphanage where he grew up. On his birthday she surprises him by taking him to a hockey game. Before they leave, he shows her a surprise gift he left her to be opened when they return.
At the hockey game, Adam catches a stray hockey puck that is shot into the crowd. On the way home, he falls asleep and dies at the age of 27. After the funeral, Caroline opens the gift he left her. It is a box of albums with a handwritten note from Adam declaring his love for Caroline.
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Tony Bill discovered Tom Sierchio's screenplay for Untamed Heart during one of his talent hunts. He asked an agent at William Morris to send him screenplays from new writers. Originally, Sierchio's screenplay had been submitted as a writer’s sample. Bill showed the screenplay to producer Helen Bartlett who suggested that they option it. Within two weeks of Sierchio handing his script to his agent, MGM had greenlighted the project. Originally the film was entitled The Baboon Heart in honor of an infant named Baby Fae (born 14 October 1984) who received a cross-species heart transplant from a baboon to fix a congenital heart defect.
Initially, Bill had not considered Christian Slater for the role of Adam, “but then it was just the obvious choice."
For the role of Caroline, Bill remembered auditioning Marisa Tomei for his earlier film, Five Corners. She had been too young for that role but after her success with My Cousin Vinny, he knew she was right for this film. Sierchio's screenplay was originally set in New Jersey but for logistical reasons they could not shoot there. The filmmakers considered finding a location to double for the state but while Bill, Bartlett, and Sierchio were scouting in Minneapolis, they realized that it was the perfect place because of its strong acting community (they cast 35 of the film’s 40 roles from it) and a large commercial production community which allowed them to utilize a mostly local crew.
The city’s locations were also a strong factor in deciding to shoot there. The centerpiece was Jim’s Coffee Shop & Bakery, which actually existed at the time of production but was closed to the public for the duration of shooting the film. Bill said, “It had a wonderful combination of ingredients from every diner you’ve ever been to; we’ve done very little to change it for the film. In fact, we changed the original name of the diner in the script to reflect that it is Jim's."
Principal photography began in March 1992 amidst cold temperatures. However, several scenes in winter were shot in May and fake snow had to be created to maintain the illusion. One scene was shot at the Met Center, the home of the then-Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars) at the time. Tomei wanted to have a believable regional accent and chose a driver, Craig Kittelson, who was from the area and could act as her dialogue coach.
Film critic Roger Ebert wrote that the film was "kind of sweet and kind of goofy, and works because its heart is in the right place". Hal Hinson of The Washington Post said that the film "is hopelessly syrupy, preposterous and more than a little bit lame, but, still, somehow it got to me". Vincent Canby of The New York Times, said that the film "is to the mind what freshly discarded chewing gum is to the sole of a shoe: an irritant that slows movement without any real danger of stopping it". Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B−" rating and Owen Gleiberman praised Tomei's performance: "With her flashing dark eyes and libidinous overbite, Tomei is adorable — she looks like a flirtatious bunny rabbit — but what's astonishing is the range of expression that passes over those delectable features". Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "The Rain Man-Dying Young elements in Tom Sierchio's script are pitfalls that Slater dodges with a wonderfully appealing performance. His love scenes with the dazzling Tomei have an uncommon delicacy". In his review for The New Yorker, Anthony Lane praised Tomei for bringing "startling high spirits to a dullish role. She snatches moments of happiness out of the air and shares them out to anyone who’s around". Mike Clark, in his review for USA Today, wrote, "Director Tony Bill (My Bodyguard) is adept both in the yarn's meticulous buildup and in his handling of the actors".
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