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Playing By Heart

Year: 1998
Production Co: Hyperion Pictures
Studio: Miramax
Director: Willard Carroll
Producer: Willard Carroll
Writer: Willard Carroll
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Ryan Phillippe, Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Gillian Anderson, Jon Stewart, Madeleine Stowe, Dennis Quaid, Ellen Burstyn, Jay Mohr, Anthony Edwards, Patricia Clarkson, Natassja Kinski

How a film with a cast like this didn't do a lot better is beyond me, my only guess is that Miramax buried it because of a similar competitor in the marketplace.

Although it's just as likely - ironically - that it had little star power, almost everyone in the cast not quite stars (Jon Stewart, Angelina Jolie), faded (Gena Rowlands, Madeleine Stowe) or fading stars or in strange in-between times in their careers (Gillian Anderson, Sean Connery).

It's a rumination on the redemptive and sometimes hurtful powers of love just like Paul Haggis' Crash is a similar thing about racism (which without giving too much away will give you an idea of the denouement) as a bunch of couples try to sort their lives out as new promise, threats to their security or misunderstandings descend on them. It's not a particularly staggering reveal when you learn what they all have in common but it's a cute one.

Stand-outs are Jay Mohr as the young man dying in a hospital with his mother by his side and a pre-showboating Angelina Jolie showing a vulnerability and approachability you never see from her now she's a megastar. Connery and Rowlands have the natural gravity of their maturity both in years and as actors even if their scenes feel a little too much like 'ABC' exposition, and Ryan Phillipe can't do much more than stand around near-scowling.

But such criticisms sound harsher than they're meant to. It's contrived and sugary, but if there's one thing we never get tired of seeing on screen and talking about, it's love, and Playing By Heart does so with enough honesty to reel you in and enough fantasy to be just the right side of sweet.

There are some gritty touches in the story, and they fit comfortably in beautiful clean cinematography and attractive people. In the end the film seems to be saying little more than the fact that love's a mess and you win some and lose others, but it's more interested in showing it to you than preaching it.

It's a whimsical, beautiful modern fable.

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