Movie Review By Heather Clisby
Written and directed by Willard Carroll, "Playing by Heart" is a film so loaded with talent and promise that one would expect it to sink under its' own weight. It doesn't; in fact, it swims. It does Olympic .10 backstrokes. Carroll has taken an overdone, complicated topic: human relationships, and freshly explored it with both feet planted firmly in modern reality.
The cast is unbelievably qualified: Gena Rowlands, Sean Connery, Gillian Anderson, Dennis Quaid, Madeline Stowe, Anthony Edwards, Jay Mohr, Jon Stewart, Ellen Burstyn, Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillipe and Nastassja Kinski; not a slacker in the bunch. I felt consistently in capable hands, particularly in any scene with the long-married Paul and Hannah (Connery and Rowlands) who once and for all discuss his long-ago affair while fighting to ignore the topic of his terminal brain tumor.
The film takes place in L.A. and, for a refreshing change, it's raining most of the time. We first meet Joan, played by the intelligent and luscious Angelina Jolie, who's relaying some wisdom passed on to her by a wise musician friend, "You can't talk about love, he says. 'Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.' "
Carroll's characters are solid in their Who-ness - whether it's Anderson's painfully scared Meredith, Jolie's hard-drinking, love-starved Joan, Burstyn's stoic mother, Mildred or Quaid's misunderstood dreamer of a husband, Hugh - we get a completely drawn person with each meeting (a delight that cannot always be matched in real life.)
Like floating down a river at a leisurely pace, "Playing by Heart" resists the urge to push or pull you through an emotion or pre-programmed response. It's a grand idea really, the self-digesting movie! With no musical- cue additives or impossibly clever comeback preservatives! It's even 100% pop culture-reference free, for those who are trying to cut back.
What works here is that there is no main plot, only a series of mini ones that are seemingly unconnected, a la Robert Altman's 1993 "Short Cuts." Whether you've been married for 40 years or 15, or rather, can't seem to make anything stick for fear of it, y'know, sticking, there's something for everyone here.
It's your basic talking heads picture that displays some old brilliance (Connery, Rowlands, and Burstyn) and exhibits promising newer talent that should be around for years to come (notably Jolie, Phillipe and Mohr.) It's a nicely woven film that takes tiny humble steps and ends up winning the day's big race.
© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 1/20/99
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