review for Desert Hearts on AllMovie

Desert Hearts (1985)
by Michael Costello review

Donna Deitch's debut film is the modest, appealing story of a romance between two seemingly mismatched women. Helen Shaver plays a university professor in her mid-thirties who becomes involved with a younger woman (Patrice Charbonneau) while staying in Reno for a divorce during the 1950s. Whether straight or gay, man or woman, the story of an uptight character letting go is so innately compelling that it's long been a staple of motion pictures. By setting her love story in such an unusual time and place, and shooting in relaxed master scenes, Deitch heightens the sense of the forbidden radiating from the intense, but slow-burning attraction of the two women. Given the mores of the time, the reluctance of Shaver's professor to be drawn into a new world of sexuality is completely believable, and typically, it's her character's resistance that makes the final scenes of lovemaking so hot. However, both characters are thinly written, with neither Shaver's long marriage or Charbonneau's existence as a gay woman in an unforgiving American West much explored. Still, both actresses give splendid performances, subtly expressing a passion the script only implies.