Shirley MacLaine, once again decked out in a geriatric "Annie Hall" look, dominates "Waiting for the Light," a lightweight comedy set in the 1950s that casts her as a retired magician who is given to making her tricks, such as sawing someone in half, a bit too bloody for the children's birthday parties that hire her. (It's only ketchup, of course.)
Teri Garr is her divorced niece, with whom she lives in a rundown Chicago apartment. And, of course, she drives Garr crazy, encouraging Garr's two children (Hilary Wolf, Colin Baumgartner) to get into even more mischief than they are naturally inclined toward. Mostly they are given to practical jokes that cause their schoolteacher grief.
Garr, in love with a married man who keeps promising to file for divorce, runs a local movie house, and MacLaine has a hard time getting paid by mothers who are shocked by her birthday party shenanigans, so they are barely scraping by. But it isn't long before opportunity knocks in the form of a legacy from a forgotten relative who leaves Garr a diner in the remote Northwest.
So they pack their bags and head for the diner, which, predictably, is a real mess. But they clean it up, make the living quarters livable, and once again find themselves scraping by.
Next door lives an eccentric (Vincent Shiavelli) who enjoys terrorizing kids, so naturally Garr's kids are terrorized right away. MacLaine plots revenge with them, and they play a prank on the neighbor that backfires when, instead, the man sees it as a heaven-sent miracle.
Before long he has attracted all kinds of curiosity seekers who want to see the site where the miracle occurred and business at the next-door diner begins booming as a result.
Meanwhile, Garr finds herself with two potential suitors but continues to pine for her married boyfriend back in Chicago.
"Waiting for the Light" isn't anything special, but it benefits from a first-rated cast MacLaine and Garr are both quite appealing and Wolf and Baumgartner are kids who seem like real kids instead of saccharine child actors. Shiavelli, a veteran character actor perhaps best known now as the subway spirit in "Ghost," is also quite good.
And up until the "miracle," this is a nice, easygoing little character piece. After that it seems more contrived and silly than anything else.
Still, on the whole, this is a simple, slice-of-life movie of a kind we seldom see these days and it is a welcome diversion. Especially if you can't get into "Home Alone" or some other South Towne movie. Slopping over into this one may prove to be a pleasant surprise.
"Waiting for the Light" is rated PG for a couple of profanities.