[Screen It]


(1998) (Gillian Anderson, Angeline Jolie) (R)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Heavy Minor Heavy None None
Minor None None Minor Extreme
Smoking Tense Family
Topics To
Talk About
Moderate Minor Heavy Moderate Minor

Romantic Drama: Several residents of Los Angeles try to sort out the relationships in their lives.
In the city of Los Angeles, various individuals try to ascertain what will make them happy in their current or possible future relationships. Meredith (GILLIAN ANDERSON), a socially shy theater director, doesn't know how to respond to the advances made by Trent (JON STEWART), an architect who meets her after a bookcase falls on top of her.

Joan (ANGELINA JOLIE), a struggling actress who's just acrimoniously broken up with her live- in boyfriend, meets Keenan (RYAN PHILLIPPE), a blue-haired club hopper who mysteriously refuses her obvious advances toward him, thus peaking her interest and causing her to try harder. On the other hand, Gracie (MADELEINE STOWE), who's having an affair with Roger (ANTHONY EDWARDS), wants nothing more than casual, noncommital sex out of their adulterous relationship.

Meanwhile, an older married couple, Hannah (GENA ROWLANDS) and Paul (SEAN CONNERY), who produce a cooking show on which Hannah stars, try to cope with the revelation that he was in love with someone else twenty-five years earlier, while an apparently pathological liar, Hugh (DENNIS QUAID), bar hops and blurts out drunken tales of misery and woe to anyone who'll listen.

Finally, there's Mildred (ELLEN BURSTYN), a concerned and distraught mother who's come to the bedside of her sick and dying gay son, Mark (JAY MOHR). As these seemingly disparate people try to make sense of their lives, events soon transpire that show their troubles and lives aren't exactly unrelated.

Although teens are the most likely audience among kids, unless they're fans of someone in the cast, it's not very likely that this romantic drama will lure them in.
For language.
  • GILLIAN ANDERSON plays a socially inept theater director who doesn't know how to accept the advances of a friendly architect.
  • JON STEWART plays that man who eventually ends up sleeping with her.
  • ANGELINA JOLIE plays a glitzy and hard-drinking struggling actress who won't accept a young man's refusal of her romantic advances. She also cusses a lot, but does later give up drinking for Keenan.
  • RYAN PHILLIPPE plays that bar hopping young man who refuses to date for various reasons, including being burned (in more ways than one) in a previous relationship.
  • MADELEINE STOWE plays a married woman who doesn't want her affair with a character played by ANTHONY EDWARDS, who's also married, to go beyond casual sex.
  • GENA ROWLANDS plays the host of a TV cooking show who becomes mad at her husband, played by SEAN CONNERY, who admits to falling in love with another woman some twenty- five years ago.
  • DENNIS QUAID plays a seemingly pathological liar who blurts out drunken and apparently false tails of misery of woe to anyone who will listen (and cusses during them). Nevertheless, his behavior is later explained and we then see that he's not the person we originally thought he was.
  • ELLEN BURSTYN plays a concerned mother who comes to the bedside aide of her sick and dying, gay son, played by JAY MOHR.


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    Despite a character's metaphorical comment that "talking about love is like dancing about architecture" (the latter of which, by the way, was this film's original and definitely awkward title), that's about all she and the rest of the characters do in writer/director Willard Carroll's sophomore release, "Playing By Heart," a less than stellar but still ultimately satisfying romantic drama.

    While "talkfests" aren't always such a bad thing -- look at the fabulous films by David Mamet and Whit Stillman or TV's "Seinfeld" that went on for a decade talking about nothing in particular -- the only elements that keep this film afloat are its stellar cast and the easily solved "mystery" about how the six initially disparate stories are related.

    Although it doesn't take a rocket scientist to quickly figure that out -- especially since such blatant, dialogue-based hints are continually dropped into obvious view -- this is another of those pictures where the summation of its parts is greater than any of its individual scenes. The average moviegoer might not particularly find any one scene to be fabulous, or, for that matter, even that memorable. Nonetheless, the cumulative effect slowly weaves its magic over the audience and gives the film a strong and congruous conclusion.

    Carroll, whose previous credit was for helming the little seen horror flick "The Runestone" (and producing some kids' films such as "The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars"), should get kudos for somehow managing to attract a sizeable and formidably talented cast. In addition, he's got the confidence and gusto to attempt cramming all of those performers and six mini-plots in which they appear into this film's two-hour runtime. Uncertainty doesn't seem to be one of his weaker points.

    Directly related, but on the flip side, however, the sheer number of plots and characters partially foil Carroll's -- and the film's -- attempts. With so many stories and people to follow, several things ultimately become inevitable.

    First, one or more of the subplots will get shortchanged. While most of them do receive relatively equal amounts of screen time, the plots regarding the adulterous couple and the dying son don't get the proper attention or time that they need so that they can properly develop.

    The uncommonly large number of those stories and characters likewise dilutes the film's overall thrust -- if such a strong term can even be used to describe the relatively passive plot elements -- by never allowing the audience to focus on or favor one or more of the characters. As soon as you try to do that, the film zips off to another plot featuring other characters, thus giving the film too much of an episodic, soap opera-ish feel.

    Although ensemble performances can and do work -- "The Big Chill" is a prime example -- this film's disjointed approach never fully engages the audience on an emotional nor dramatic level, and it prevents the moviegoer from truly sympathizing with any of the characters. As such, this becomes more of an observational, rather than a participatory film.

    Finally, while some of the plots are mildly interesting -- most notably the one regarding Dennis Quaid's seemingly pathological liar character who's followed by a mysterious woman -- the rest of them are rather blasť in their development. That only leaves the question of how these stories are related, and as stated before, it's not too difficult to figure that out, despite Carroll's apparent belief that it will all come as a big surprise in the final scene.

    Instead, and much like what occurred in the recent release of "Stepmom," it's the cast's sheer star power and their delivered performances that carry this picture. "The Avengers" to the contrary, any film that features the incomparable Sean Connery ("The Rock") immediately scores high marks in the minds of most critics and many moviegoers. The scenes pairing him with the equally talented Gena Rowlands ("Hope Floats") are clearly the film's best, and one only wishes they had more screen time and domestic ammo to volley back and forth at each other.

    Yet the film offers even more small delights from its performers. Gillian Anderson (best known for her role on TV's "The X-Files") continues to prove that those believing her doomed to be typecast forever as an FBI agent were dead wrong. Meanwhile, up and coming star Angeline Jolie (the HBO movie "Gia") easily commands the screen whenever she's present, and further cements her status as the next "hot" thing in Hollywood.

    The always reliable Dennis Quaid ("The Parent Trap") delivers a fun take on his extroverted introverted character, while Ellen Burstyn ("The Spitfire Grill") and Jay Mohr ("Picture Perfect") bring believable compassion and depth to their characters and their subplot that's the most removed from the others. The rest of the cast, from the more well-known Anthony Edwards (TV's "E.R.") to the lesser-known Ryan Phillippe ("54"), and many others, also deliver decent performances.

    Although Carroll's script doesn't offer any big revelations about relationships that we haven't already seen before, and only manages to squeeze in a few witty moments instead of the occasional and more needed belly laugh, or even more intelligent dialogue, the film still manages to work and should satisfy those looking for a different, but still appealing romantic drama. As such, we give "Playing By Heart" a 6 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this R-rated film. Profanity is extreme with nearly 20 "f" words, along with an assortment of other words and phrases. A great deal of drinking occurs during the film, with several characters appearing intoxicated at various times.

    Although we don't see any real sexual activity, some sexually related talk occurs, some encounters are implied, and several characters are having affairs. Some thematic elements of fidelity, AIDS, and other issues also occur that could spur some parent/child conversations. Beyond all of that, however, the remaining categories have little or no major objectionable content. Should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness, however, you should take a closer look at what's been listed.

    Of special note for those affected by bright and repeated flashes of light, a scene set in a nightclub features a full screen strobe effect that goes on for several seconds.

  • People drink in a bar, including Hugh, who tells a stranger a story about him having a several drink buzz that led to a fateful car accident (which isn't true).
  • Hannah and Paul have drinks, and he makes a sarcastic comment about there still being enough time left for him to become an alcoholic.
  • People have drinks in a nightclub, including Joan who quickly downs several martinis.
  • Hugh and a woman he's just met have several martinis and later appear to be rather intoxicated.
  • Trent and Meredith have wine with dinner.
  • Joan has another martini.
  • Trent brings wine over to Meredith's for dinner, but they later drink it in another scene.
  • We see Paul carrying a drink and then see Hannah pouring one for herself.
  • Hugh has drinks in a gay bar with a transvestite and both later appear to be intoxicated.
  • Joan and others have drinks in a bar, although she finally quits drinking to appease Keenan.
  • People have drinks at a play's reception.
  • Although we don't see any of this, Keenan mentions that his former lover shared needles (ie. Did drugs) with the people with whom she was having affairs.
  • People have champagne at a wedding reception.
  • Mark has a little bit of blood under his nose, as well as a few crusty blisters on his lips (he's dying, presumably from AIDS).
  • Gracie and Roger have both for carrying on an affair.
  • Some may see Paul as having both for admitting to having been in love with another woman some two decades ago (although he didn't sleep with the woman).
  • Hugh tells many lies, but we later learn why (for a class he's taking).
  • A stranger in a bar won't stop coming on to Joan, despite her telling him to stop.
  • Keenan mentions that his former lover had affairs behind his back (and ultimately gave him AIDS).
  • Some viewers may not like Paul commenting that he hopes a preacher "takes it easy on the God stuff" at a wedding ceremony, or of the film briefly portraying a preacher who's having an affair.
  • None.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "You're full of sh*t," "Scag," "Scumbag," "Losers," "Pissing me off," "Screw you," "Bitch" (not about women), "Bastard," "Straight ass" and "Shut up."
  • None.
  • None.
  • A song contains the word "hell."
  • At least 19 "f" words, 11 "s" words, 8 hells, 3 damns, 1 ass, 1 crap, and 4 uses of "God," 2 uses of "Oh my God," and 1 use each of "Jesus," "Christ," "For Christ's sakes" and "Oh good God" as exclamations.
  • We hear a joke by Jay Leno on the TV where he talks about a person dropping a Viagra pill on the floor, the dog nabbing it, and that he now has a "pointer."
  • As they met for their affair, Gracie tells Roger not to be gentle with her.
  • Joan shows various amounts of cleavage in different outfits she wears.
  • Joan comments that in a previous relationship, "the sex part wasn't bad," but then comments that she timed his "performance" one night and that it equaled the duration of a "how to" video she had just discovered that he owned.
  • Paul suggestively comments on one of the stations that carries Hannah's show being "WWFU" and that it broadcasts from "Intercourse (PA)." He then adds, "I can't get enough of you in Intercourse" and "I know exactly how you feel there."
  • Meredith comments that her former husband turned out to be gay.
  • We briefly see Roger on top of Gracie on a bed, but beyond a little bit of cleavage, we don't see anything else (she's wearing a slip and he a pair of shorts/underwear).
  • Upon seeing Meredith's huge dog that stands up to greet him, Trent comments, "That's certainly impressive...I'm suddenly feeling inadequate."
  • Meredith awkwardly blurts out that she doesn't want to have sex tonight with Trent (on their date). He then comments that sex is the last thing on his mind. He does add, however, that if something happens between them, "Sex will probably enter into it." He also adds that he's had sex with lots of women in the past, but that he didn't like it and figures they probably didn't either.
  • Paul tells Hannah that he didn't sleep with a woman from their past, but that he wanted to (but didn't to preserve their marriage).
  • Hugh has drinks in a gay bar with a transvestite, where the leather-bound bartender briefly makes a pass at him. Telling one of his lies, Hugh tells the transvestite that he cheated on his wife with her brother.
  • We briefly see Gracie rolling off from on top of Roger under the sheets (and apparently nude), but we don't see any nudity nor activity.
  • Gracie talks about the first time (sexually) with her husband being great, and that she used to cry from the pleasure.
  • Joan and Keenan agree that they can't have sex (because he has AIDS), but we do see them in bed together, apparently having fooled around to some degree.
  • It's implied that Trent and Meredith sleep together.
  • Miscellaneous background characters smoke in bars and nightclubs during the film.
  • Hugh states that his wife and son are dead, but we learn that this is a staged lie.
  • Mildred must deal with the fact that her son is dying.
  • Hannah and Paul have a prolonged spat about his revelation of loving another woman two decades ago.
  • Gracie and Roger, who are married to other people, have an affair with each other.
  • Extramarital affairs.
  • Relationships in general.
  • AIDS.
  • Hannah briefly smacks at Paul when she gets fed up with him.
  • Joan knees a stranger in the crotch after he puts his hands on her (after she warns him to leave her alone).

  • Reviewed January 19, 1999 / Posted on January 22, 1999

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