"You can't talk about love," Joan (Angelina Jolie) tells us in the
opening to PLAYING BY HEART. "Talking about love is like dancing about
architecture." (The film's original title was DANCING ABOUT
ARCHITECTURE, but they were forced into changing it before its release
since the title was deemed too close in name to DANCING AT LUGHNASA.)
The characters, who appear on a virtual revolving stage, do exactly that
-- talk incessantly, in excessively "clever" monologues, about love.
Pairs of actors deliver most of the speeches, but the actors frequently
sound like they are addressing the audience and not each other.
PLAYING BY HEART has a star-studded cast (Gillian Anderson, Madeleine
Stowe, Anthony Edwards, Ryan Phillippe, Gena Rowlands, Sean Connery,
Dennis Quaid, Ellen Burstyn, Jay Mohr, Jon Stewart, Patricia Clarkson
and Nastassja Kinski), but it would give too much away to describe even
their relationships. Some of them are sleeping with others, some are
related by marriage, and some are acquaintances that meet in bars. The
story tries to keep their interrelationships hidden as long as possible.
The story switches every few minutes between the seemingly disjoint
stories in the same way that the old Carousel of Progress at Disneyland
kept rotating the audience to a new stage. Eventually and predictably,
the movie, written and directed by Willard Carroll, brings all of the
disparate pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle that is solved,
miraculously, by dropping all of the pieces on the floor. There is only
one true surprise in the story's resolution, which does provide some
much-needed humor in an otherwise sappy script.
This same basic plot format worked successfully in Robert Altman's SHORT
CUTS, but PLAYING BY HEART doesn't have the same intelligent level of
writing as SHORT CUTS.
Looking handsomer every year, Sean Connery plays the male half of the
older couple in the play -- oops, I mean movie, although it certainly
feels like a play. Gena Rowlands plays his wife. They have agreeable
little arguments in which he says things like, "There isn't anything to
talk about; of course there is, but I don't want to talk about it."
As a husband named Hugh, Dennis Quaid plays the strangest character. He
goes around bars making up horrible stories as a way to hit on women by
gaining their sympathy. One time he claims that, while drunk, he killed
his wife and child in a car accident, which is certainly one of the
strangest come-ons ever. If a drunk came to your table claiming to have
recently killed his family while drinking, would you invite him to stay?
Like most of the movie, things are transparently not what they appear to
be on the surface. And by Hugh's second fake story, you can begin to
see what is going on. Whether you care or not, given the cloying level
of the pseudo-sophisticated dialog, is questionable.
"I'm better at all the lies I've manufactured than the lies I'm living,"
Hugh confesses. The cynical and melancholy movie wants to be romantic
and message-rich, but comes across instead as stilted and dishonest as
Hugh's barroom prevarications.
PLAYING BY HEART runs 2:01. It is rated R for profanity, sexual
situations and mature themes and would be fine for teenagers.
Copyright © 1999 Steve Rhodes