Urban Cinefile
"Someday I'd be a famous director. Someday I'd be rich. Someday I'd have the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. . . "  -Mark Illsley, director of Happy, Texas on his 'someday' syndrome
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday March 20, 2018 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Meredith, a theatre director (Gillian Anderson), and Trent, an architect (Jon Stewart), have a couple of misbegotten dates. Joan (Angelina Jolie) a struggling actress, doggedly chases young Keenan (Ryan Phillippe) from one nightclub to another. Meanwhile, the married Gracie (Madeleine Stowe) trysts with her equally married lover (Anthony Edwards) in a high-rise hotel. Cooking show creators Hannah (Gena Rowlands) and Paul (Sean Connery) find their 40-year marriage threatened by surprise revelations. And Hugh (Dennis Quaid) drifts aimlessly among bars, recounting sad stories and tall tales to confused strangers (Patricia Clarkson and Nastassja Kinski). Elsewhere, Mark (Jay Mohr) lies dying of AIDS in a hospital, while his long-suffering mother Mildred (Ellen Burstyn) keeps vigil.

"It's raining in Los Angeles - tears of heaven for the dying and the living alike, perhaps, as Willard Carroll takes us on a walk through the heartland of love, across fields and forests, the thicket and thistle of it all. At first fragmented, slowly coalescing, the stories of these couples are heartfelt because we become attached to them early on and invest in their emotional decisions. And it's gripping stuff: snapshots of ordinary people, at first apparently unconnected, who are getting Carroll's open heart surgery on the operating table of love. The younger ones are cool and the older ones ultra cool, with Connery and Rowlands scorching as an old married couple on a tidal wave of feelings they didn't expect. All the characters are conspicuous by their reality, and elicit laughter as much from painful recognition as from the well worked dialogue. Death gets a workout, too, a factor that plays an insistent note in everyone's life. Stylistically, the film is dense yet accessible, with some well used time lapse photography, and a genuinely thought provoking camera that is as subtle as it is powerful; much like the score. I like this film a lot, a genuine grown up movie that will hurt, amuse and amaze its target audience, and maybe surprise you if you are not it."
Andrew L. Urban

"If you like your emotions stirred, shaken a little, on the rocks or just straight, you'll find Playing by Heart is a welcome cocktail. The ingredients by way of talent, music and assured direction are all first rate, and the cast list gives an idea of the treat in store. Willard Carroll's insightful and beautifully written piece about all kinds of love, from the deeply complex to the ironic, is a satisfying journey around the dance floor of life. Within the first 15 minutes, we have not only met very different characters, but they have drawn us emotionally into their worlds. We jump from story to story effortlessly, smoothly, compellingly. On the menu, love appears in many forms: from familiar to forbidden, hopeless to hopeful, reluctant to compulsive, deceitful to trusting, love with strings and love without. Love for any palate. This superbly observed, character driven story hooks us and pulls us deeper and deeper into a labyrinth of emotional complexity. From the superficial, we delve into areas where we aren't so comfortable places and situations which express life's bitter ironies only too well. We explore what we think we want to know only to find we probably would have been more content not to know. They say it never rains in LA but in the course of this film set in the City of Angels, we experience rain, sunshine, day, night all symbolic on the rollercoaster of consciousness. One solitary drop of rain running down the exterior of a car window reflects a tear shed on the inside. Life is uncompromisingly entwined with death, as surely as beginnings come from endings. I found Playing by Heart to be an extraordinarily moving film an optimistic close up of the colourful tapestry of love. The entire cast are marvellous but the real scene stealers are Sean Connery, Gena Rowland and Angelina Jolie, who light up the screen with never a flicker. Poignant, moving, witty and funny, Playing by Heart is a rare treat a delight for anyone who has ever loved."
Louise Keller

"With its Los Angeles setting and precise La Ronde-style choreography of eleven principal characters who are connected to one another in some way, Playing by Heart could easily pass muster as a reworked companion piece to Alan Rudolph's 1976 debut Welcome To L.A., or its 1984 update, Choose Me, as well as Robert Altman's exceptional Short Cuts from 1993. But while these earlier films' dark undercurrents (and limited budgets) invariably confined them to a largely arthouse audience, this latest rumination on love and its many permutations couldn't be more mainstream friendly. Carroll has fashioned a deceptively simple romantic souffle whose underlying complexity, particularly in its inspired finale, is always equal to the sum of its acutely observed parts. Its sight and sound are perfectly distilled in Vilmos Zsigmont's elegant cinematography and veteran John Barry's soaring score. Highly recommended."
Leo Cameron

"Watching this film reminds one of seeing a moderately good piece of theatre - some excellent acting, an above-average script, and a lot of words but little emotional empathy. Willard Carroll's overly verbose script becomes a victim of its own artificiality. The dialogue, for the most part, is far too clever and trite for its own good, and so much of the film's reality, becomes somehow dissipated. But there are some pleasures, notably in performances like that of Connery and Rowlands, who light up the screen and every scene in which they so deftly play off one another. Angelina Jolie has her moments, but lets herself down with dialogue that never rings true, and a co-star in Ryan Phillippe, who is simply woeful. Filmed in Los Angeles by veteran cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, the film looks gorgeous and is technically proficient. Under the guidance of a more astute director, Playing by Heart could have been a special film, rather than an irritating and simplistic one."
Paul Fischer

Email this article


Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0




AKA: Dancing About Architecture

CAST: Gillian Anderson, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Sean Connery, Anthony Edwards, Angelina Jolie, Jay Mohr, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Gena Rowlands, Jon Stewart, Madeleine Stowe

DIRECTOR: Willard Carroll

PRODUCER: Willard Carroll, Meg Liberman, Tom Wilhite

SCRIPT: Willard Carroll


EDITOR: Pietro Scalia

MUSIC: John Barry


RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes



VIDEO RELEASE: February 17, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2018