PLAYING BY HEART

3 Stars
Year Released: 1999
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 121 minutes
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Sophomore writer/director Willard Carroll weaves together an all-star cast in interlocking parallel stories about finding love in Los Angeles.
The film’s theme is spoken by young club-hopper Joan (Angelina Jolie). Taken by the mysterious Keenan (Ryan Phillippe), she tells him that “talking about love” is like “dancing about architecture” (the original title until the studio thought it would be confused with “Dancing at Lughnasa”), meaning speech is not the medium to adequately express the details of love. They all try, anyway, for the rest of the picture.
Others up for the dance include a TV cooking show hostess (Gena Rowlands) and her husband (Sean Connery) who still fight over his one brief infidelity 25 years earlier; two illicit lovers (Madeline Stowe, Anthony Edwards) who discuss their unhappy marriages; a distant theater director (Gillian Anderson) and the architect of her dreams, Trent (Jon Stewart); and Dennis Quaid who can create a new identity every night but cannot function with the one that he has.
For a familial sort of love, there’s Ellen Burstyn as the estranged mother to her son (Jay Mohr) dying of AIDS. Carroll tries to create a “Short Cuts”-style chick flick, but he overplays the specter of death which hangs over too many of the relationships. The audience is beaten over the head with the “clever” ways in which the stories are linked and the need for confession for love to bloom.
Miramax was able to attract such a large cast to this relatively low-budget production since all the parts are showy, talky, actor pieces. The brightest spot belongs to Angelina Jolie, who is so compelling to watch she has chemistry with the furniture. While the director wants to pull at the heartstrings and make the audience cry, which worked at my screening, I would have preferred, with this cast, a lighter touch. With everything this film had going for it, Carroll really didn’t need to try so hard.



Posted on January 25, 1999 in Reviews by
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