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Playing by Heart(1998)
A diverse group of people cross paths while trying to find love in Los Angeles.
For more about Playing by Heart and the Playing by Heart Blu-ray release, see Playing by Heart Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on April 4, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Sean Connery, Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Madeleine Stowe, Dennis Quaid
Director: Willard Carroll
» See full cast & crew
Playing by Heart Blu-ray Review
Good movie, bland Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, April 4, 2013
Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.
Before Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall took it upon himself to corner the market in the multistory, multi-character, multifaceted, interconnected-by-the-end Romantic Drama/Romantic Comedy hybrid genre with his holiday-themed films Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve, there was Playing by Heart, a story of a whole lot of people with a whole lot of challenges in their in-love, out-of-love, and would-be romantic relationships that somehow, some way, tie together fairly neatly by the end as their lives are further fleshed out and the secrets of how they connect to one another become apparent. It's certainly not as busy as Marshall's films -- Valentine's Day in particular -- and it captures much the same genuine heart, honesty, and breeziness of New Year's Eve. Playing by Heart fills the imagination with several well-rounded tales of mostly interesting couples experiencing various stages of life and love. It's the tales of all the good and the bad that grows out of coming together, drifting apart, and the sacrifices necessary for and the importance of honesty and conviction in finding, winning, and remaining with that perfect soulmate.
Playing by Heart follows the stories of several individuals as they sort out their love lives at various stages and with a myriad of personal and interpersonal issues at stake. Keenan (Ryan Phillippe) and Joan (Angelina Jolie) meet at a trendy nightclub after he overhears her angrily breaking up with her boyfriend over the phone. He's turned off by her attitude, at first, but the two slowly grow closer together. Paul (Sean Connery) and Hannah (Gena Rowlands) have been married many years and are about to renew their vows but the rekindling of the past could either bring them closer together or push them further apart. Gracie (Madeleine Stowe) and Roger (Anthony Edwards) are carrying on an illicit affair; he wants more, she's happy indulging only in the physical end relationship. Hugh (Dennis Quaid) is a bar hopper who lies about his life to elicit an emotional response from the women he meets. Meredith (Gillian Anderson) takes a chance on dating a guy she knows little about (Jon Stewart), resulting in several awkward moments on the way to feeling one another out. Lastly, Mark (Jay Mohr) is an AIDS patient living out his final days in the hospital with his mother (Ellen Burstyn) at his side.
It might be easy to become blinded by the star power on display in the film -- Playing by Heart boasts one of the premiere cast lists audiences are ever likely to come across -- but Writer/Director Willard Carroll's (Marigold) picture manages to blend them all into the story rather seamlessly, not a very easy accomplishment and a testament to the quality of the scriptwriting and the meat of the story both. While it's not a perfect film -- some of the relationships and reveals aren't quite as dramatically sexy, surprising, or emotionally satisfying as others -- there's a sweetness to it, a legitimate tenderness in the way the characters are developed, the way their vulnerabilities are gradually laid out in the open as their stories progress, the way their strengths and weaknesses make complete people of nearly all of them. The movie builds its characters from all angles, and it's that sense of wholeness that moves it beyond genre artificiality and into something more palatable as both cinema entertainment and a tale that elicits a rather deep emotional response. More importantly, though, is that the film unequivocally succeeds, with most of the stories, in building deeply satisfying arcs and meshing them into a single artistic expression rather than leaving them feeling forced in the way they meet in the end. This is a movie that may not be relatable to all viewers but it is one that certainly captivates with its combination if simplistic superficial story lines defined by deeper emotions and surprises.
Even though the story overshadows the cast, there's no denying the strengths each player brings to the film. Jay Mohr is outstanding in what looks from the outside like a rather simple role -- lay in bed and wear a little makeup -- but he finds a shockingly complete character depth on his death bed, not just looking the part but feeling it and conveying that feeling to his audience to the point that there shouldn't be a dry eye in the audience for his final scenes. Ellen Burstyn is wonderful as his mother, a woman finding it difficult to understand her son while dealing with the pending loss of his life. It's a shame their story doesn't earn more screen time; it's the film's best but limited to mere minutes in the two-hour experience (the same of which may be said of the best story in the aforementioned New Year's Eve, that of the Michelle Pfeiffer-Zac Efron "bucket list" tour). Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands make for a believable, struggling older couple on the verge of renewing their vows but finding it difficult to come to terms with the realities of their long and checkered pasts together. Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart create a beautifully evolving relationship, and on the opposite end is the film's least impressive tale, that of the cheating spouses and the little dramatic depth that story provides. On the flip side, the finest of the budding romantic relationships in the film is that between Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe. It's shaped by incredibly deep, pure emotions, and the actors manage to vividly bring their inner feelings to the surface in an infinitely believable and likable relationship that's the most dramatically and emotionally satisfying both by film's end.
Playing by Heart Blu-ray, Video Quality
Playing by Heart's oddly-framed high definition transfer is no work of Blu-ray art. From the outset, the image takes on a muddled, bland, dim, washed out appearance. Darker shots look as though they're being smothered by a haze, and brighter ones don't fare significantly better. The image is terribly flat and unnaturally smooth; grain is practically nonexistent, and details lack any sort of refined texture, showing only basic shapes and the sort of clarity and vibrancy normally associated with standard definition material. Colors fare little, if any, better. They're uninspired to say the least, never brilliant and quite drab in most instances. Black levels take on a pale and washed out appearance, and flesh tones, too, never find a positive, natural balance. The image shows some light banding in a few places, but additional unwanted anomalies aren't included in any real excess. This one's watchable, but it's pretty far removed from the best Echo Bridge has to offer.
Playing by Heart Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Playing by Heart earns a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack, but it lacks that sense of rich fullness and natural clarity of similarly encoded and superior presentations. Overall, the track proves quite weak, yielding muddled musical notes and a distinctive lack of energy. It does offer a fair amount of front end spacing with a noticeable surround element to the opening music, though this certainly isn't a track one would use to showcase precise musical reproduction. Granted, some of the dance club background music should come across as somewhat cluttered and sloppy to help recreate the effect, but even through score there's a disappointing lack of natural presence. The track does produce a few scattered moments of fair surround immersion; falling rain isn't purely spaced but the scattered entire-stage effect proves satisfactory. Most of the track takes the shape of dialogue, which fortunately comes through clearly enough and remains the property of the center channel for the duration. This is a somewhat sloppy track, but it's good enough to get listeners through the film with the basic elements coming through adequately enough.
Playing by Heart Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This Blu-ray release of Playing by Heart contains no supplemental content.
Playing by Heart Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Playing by Heart is a fine Drama/Romance/Romantic Comedy hybrid that offers a hodgepodge of likable, relatable, lovable, and even despicable characters. But the end result is a movie that's beautifully balanced and not in the least bit structurally overwhelming. Most of the stories are enthralling, one is quite bland, but all of them are with some dramatic merit as they tie in with the final act but also stand on their own excellence. Those end reveals, revelations, and connections largely satisfy. The cast is uniformly excellent, and only the bland story receives uninspired performances. Echo Bridge's Blu-ray release of Playing by Heart features disappointing video, merely adequate audio, and no supplements. Nevertheless, it comes recommended on the strength of the film and the selling price point.
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