Playing By Heart
**.5 GM
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Gillian Anderson, Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Edwards, Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Jon Stewart, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Ellen Burstyn, Jay Mohr


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This movie's original title was "Dancing About Architecture." Weird, but perhaps fascinating enough to draw some curious viewers. Then the makers of "Dancing At Lughnasa" got mad and forced them to change it. They picked "Playing By Heart." At first, it sounds like a cornball, last-gasp title for a film, but it actually makes a bit of sense, since most everyone in the film seems to make enormous illogical leaps into declarations of love. They are definitely not playing with their minds.

Joan (Angelina Jolie) is drawn to a guarded young man named Keenan (Ryan Phillippe) and begins to pursue him relentlessly. Trent (Jon Stewart) is drawn to a guarded young woman named Meredith (Gillian Anderson) and begins to pursue her cautiously. Gracie (Madeleine Stowe) is drawn to a horny gent named Roger (Anthony Edwards) for some meaningless sex to escape from her loveless marriage to Hugh (Dennis Quaid), who seems to enjoy improvising bogus stories to strangers in bars. Hannah (Gena Rowlands) discovers her husband of 40 years, Paul (Sean Connery), is still carrying around a picture of a woman he dallied with 25 years ago. Mildred (Ellen Burstyn) just found out her son Mark (Jay Mohr) is dying and tries to spend as much time with him as she can.

Joan seems to fall in love with Keenan simply because he is aloof to her. It doesn't seem healthy. Meredith falls in love with Trent and drops all her neuroses and her reluctance to trust after a good date, a bad date, and another good date (at which point she hops in the sack with him) - and after he takes care of her enormous behemoth of a dog while she goes to a funeral. It seems a little quick for her to declare herself this way after the film makes such a point of showing how scarred she's been by men, but maybe getting someone to take care of a dog like that is no easy task. Then again, it's also Jon Stewart. How can you NOT fall in love with Jon Stewart? He's a groovy guy, and he wrote a funny book called "Naked Pictures Of Famous People."

The story comes together neatly, although I won't reveal how, and everything's as peachy as it can get. While the characters are somewhat less than adequately fleshed out and the dialog doesn't feel as natural as it could, the cast makes up for what the script lacks. Jolie is clearly the stand-out - she gets most of the good dialog and is enjoyable to watch. Connery and Rowlands trading barbs is fun, and Quaid is interesting to puzzle over as he feeds outrageous stories to random folks in random bars.

I thought I'd have some trouble watching Anderson in a movie and not thinking "Hey... why the hell are you dawdling around with these idiots? The truth is out there! Go find it! C'mon!" However, I was able to put that aside and root for Jon Stewart to win her over. Heck, I suppose I'd like to see Jon Stewart show up on the X-Files and bag Scully.

The film was built around the thought that 'talking about love is like dancing about architecture.' In other words, excessive analysis and drawn-out conversations about relationships are useless when it comes to true love. This might explain why people are so quick to declare they're in love, but cramming characters into the theme of the movie without adequate motivation isn't a wise course of action for any film. However, a good cast can make you forget about things like this and let you enjoy the film anyway.

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