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Saturday, May 20, 2000

'PLAYING BY HEART'

Oh cruel fate, another glamorous movie


OK, so real life is not the movies. To remind myself of this deep and fundamental fact, my favorite retort to girlfriends after they start moaning about their relationships, is: "[cigarette dangling from corner of mouth] Whaddaya think this is, the movies?"

Thus mentally equipped, I am prepared to sit through and not flinch at, Meg Ryan sitting next to Kevin Kline on a crowded coach flight and hitting it off ("French Kiss"), Meg Ryan entering into everlasting romance with Tom Hanks via e-mail ("You Got Mail"), Meg Ryan consorting with male angels wearing Armani ("City of Angels") and much else.

On occasion, however, a picture goes too far. Given that movies are different from real life, gosh does it have to be this different? Such is the rhetorical question that spun around my brain as I kept a partly fascinated, partly disgusted-at-the-unfairness-of-it-all gaze on a picture called "Playing by Heart" (released in Japan as "My Heart, My Love").

Written and directed by Willard Carroll, "Playing by Heart" is an "ensemble movie," meaning it has a bevy of glamorous characters played by stars of stratospheric repute, all appearing in bite-size episodes seemingly unconnected to one another. These episodes are designed to come together in the end to form one orchestral piece that, if all goes well, leaves you speechless with awe.

Remember "Short Cuts"? And more recently "Magnolia"? It's a method found and polished by Robert Altman, and rapidly becoming the thing in filmmaking circles. Maybe it makes more sense financially to get as many big names as possible and have them work a little bit each, rather than rely on a couple of mega-stars to carry the story and soak up the budget. Whatever.

In any case, "Playing by Heart" lives up to its ensemble rep with diamond-studded names like: Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands as a husband and wife TV producer team; Madeline Stowe as a frustrated suburban wife; Dennis Quaid as a bar crawler; Gillian Anderson as a stage director who never dates; and Ellen Burstyn as a mother called to the bedside of her son (Jay Mohr) dying of AIDS.

Seemingly a random set, what they share in common is the irresistible, overwhelming desire to talk about love. They hold forth, they analyze, they lecture and discuss it like a symposium. And they're real good at it too. Needless to say, at different points in the story someone is always looking deep into another person's eyes to say: "I love you." This is the movies all right, no doubt about it.

The couple that got to me was Connery and Rowlands. Despite the fact that the sum of their respective ages is close to 150, they still look gorgeous and the things they say to each other had me pushing my jaw back in position every few minutes before it was stunned into slackness all over again.

I couldn't help but compare them to my own parents, who were last seen together in the same room back in 1982, even though we were living in a two-room apartment, and who certainly never uttered the word "love" except in connection to sushi.

And then there's Gillian Anderson, who is breaking out of "X-Files" mode here to display a charming insecurity. She too has her ideas about love which she airs to beau Jon Stewart. They initially meet after a bookcase topples on her head. He helps her to her feet, takes one look and asks her to dinner. Blushing and reluctant at first, Anderson finally says yes, to which he gives her a boyish grin and says, "Great." (Don't you hate it when this happens?)

Anderson's role is that of an attractive professional who's been burned so many times she's ceased to believe in love. But all it takes is one dinner to get the magic going, which leads me to recall once again Holden Caulfield's maxim that movies are poison.

The biggest kick by far though is finding Angelina Jolie, who at the time this film was made was sprinting her way up the road leading to the podium of this year's Academy Awards. If you're not already familiar with her name, it is my pleasure to inform you that Jolie is Jon Voigt's daughter and equipped with inflammatory acting DNA that sets the screen on fire. She's also the third in line of Hollywood babes with inflatable lips (and they're her own!) after Geena Davis and Gina Gershon. The most mundane of lines, like "pass the salt," sizzle like live wire when uttered from her mouth and shock you into offering services as a slave, if she'll have you. But she won't, which is, of course, one of the things we have to put up with in real life.

"Playing by Heart" opens today at Subaruza in Yurakucho and other theaters.


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