Playing By Heart

on January 01, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
   A series of interconnected stories about the modern search for love and fulfillment, "Playing by Heart" features an impressive ensemble cast who, despite their combined talents, have difficulty breathing life into Willard Carroll's parade of conversation-driven characters. They talk. A lot. Unfortunately, their carefully crafted discussions, arguments and emotional outbursts about the varying stages of love and life give the impression of people talking at each other, rather than with each other, and the one-sided nature of these near-lectures hinders the characters' ability to develop genuine bonds with one another, let alone with the audience.
   The couples in the film range in age from twentysomething hipsters Joan (Angelina Jolie) and Keenan (Ryan Phillippe) to middle-aged adulterers Gracie (Madeleine Stowe) and Roger (Anthony Edwards) to an elderly husband and wife, Paul (Sean Connery) and Hannah (Gena Rowlands). The pairings also reflect various types of relationships that include the pursuer and the pursued (Jon Stewart and Gillian Anderson); a mother and her dying son (Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr); and two drunk strangers in a bar (Dennis Quaid and Nastassja Kinski). While some of these match-ups provide moments of substantiated reflection, particularly Paul and Hannah confronting old demons in their forty-year marriage, and the mother and son confessing long-hidden secrets before the latter's inevitable death, the stories generally suffer because of improbable dialogue and a plot that progressively becomes harder to swallow.
   Worthy of mention is Jolie's memorable performance as a sharp-tongued Gen-Xer committed to winning over the affection of a quiet loner. Unfortunately, her strong delivery is unable to overcome the contrived feel of her verbal interchanges with Phillippe, which convey as much youthful angst as a Gap commercial. The script's overall artifice, combined with a convenient burst of "I love yous" and an all-too-obvious surprise ending, work to undermine an otherwise interesting concept.    Starring Gillian Anderson, Angelina Jolie, Madeleine Stowe, Gena Rowlands and Sean Connery. Directed, written and produced by Willard Carroll. A Miramax release. Drama/comedy. Rated R for language. Running time: 121 minutes.
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