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Film review: Dying Young

"Dying Young" is sort of "Love Story" by way of "Pretty Woman": Poor girl from the uneducated side of the tracks meets rich, dying young man who hires her to be his companion.

From there you can probably write it yourself.

Julia Roberts stars as Hilary O'Neil, a "free-spirited" young woman (what other kind is there in the movies?) from Oakland, Calif., who has never really managed to strike out on her own.

In the opening sequence, Hilary, upset at having caught her boyfriend in bed with another woman, moves back in with her mother (Ellen Burstyn), a smothering, silly woman who collects dolls she buys from a home-shopping channel.

So, answering an ad in the paper, Hilary takes a job as companion to Victor Geddes (Campbell Scott), a wealthy young man living in San Francisco's Nob Hill area, who has been battling leukemia for 10 years. He's about to undergo yet another series of chemotherapy treatments and, despite his father's insisting on a nurse, Victor wants to hire someone for a different kind of companionship.

After she's hired, there is an intense, sometimes harrowing series of scenes where Hilary helps Victor get through his treatments. Eventually, he says he's through and suggests they take a vacation. So they head up the coast and rent a Victorian home in a small town . . . and, of course, begin to fall in love. He seems to be in remission, and Hilary blinds herself to the fact that he'll likely have a relapse.

These early scenes have a very real, edgy quality to them as these two people are tentative in their relationship, and we see the horror of living with a killer disease. But once they move up the coast, the film becomes a series of instrumental (dare we say, new age?) music videos: Hilary and Victor settle in, Hilary and Victor run along the beach, Hilary and Victor make love for the first time, Hilary and Victor get to know the colorful local townfolk . . . .

The result is a soft, sentimental, somewhat sappy romance that loses its edge quickly and becomes a by-the-numbers Hollywood fantasy.

The film is somewhat saved by Roberts' and Scott's convincing performances in the leads and by some nice work by the supporting players, primarily Vincent D'Onofrio (who played opposite Roberts in "Mystic Pizza"), as a local handyman who is attracted to Hilary, and Colleen Dewhurst as his mother, whose local claim to fame is having buried - literally - three husbands. David Selby is effective as Vincent's father and Burstyn, complete with squeaky voice and frumpy clothes, is downright weird as Hilary's mother.

This isn't a bad movie, really. It's just one we've seen too many times before, mostly on television. The only difference here is Julia Roberts in the lead role - not to mention an abundance of four-letter words.

"Dying Young" is rated R for considerable profanity, two sex scenes and some nudity (including a number of nude paintings).