Friday, April 01, 2016

cinema obscura: Bobby Roth's "Heartbreakers" (1984)

Five years before Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies and Videotape" took Sundance by storm in 1989, officially kicking off the New American Indie Wave, there were two provocative "in-between" films that, well, sadly fell through the cracks. By "in-between," I'm referring to those identity-crisis movies that are neither studio titles nor strictly independent ventures. There's something mainstream about them and yet they really aren't mainstream.

Coyote! He's Blue, the lanky, not-exactly-sensitive artist

The titles in question, both released in 1984, are Alan Rudolph's "Choose Me," which opens with Jan Kiesser's "swoony cinematography" (Pauline Kael's expression) following along with Lesley Ann Warren's sensual movements as she sashays down a noir street, and Bobby Roth's "Heartbreakers," a provocative piece about something that's seemingly impossible - namely, true friendship among men.

I'm less concerned with "Choose Me," because Rudolph went on to have something of a career (albeit in the shadow of his mentor, Robert Altman) and, therefore, his films are remembered. Well, sort of.

Roth, on the other hand, made a detour into TV and pretty much stayed there, his most impressive title being the HBO movie, "Baja Oklahoma" (1988), adapted by Dan Jenkins from his novel and starring Warren and Julia Roberts, compelling as mother and daughter. Peter Coyote, who co-starred, is also one of Roth's two male leads in "Heartbreakers."

Coyote is Blue, a lanky, overgrown boy who ostensibly works as an artist but is not commercially successful at it. He's the kind of guy who easily attracts women, but Blue stuck with one woman, someone who finally could no longer take his rampant immaturity and left. Nick Mancuso is Eli, a driven, successful businessman (he's largely in the "son" business) and experienced womanizer. Women are drawn to him, too.

These are an odd pair to be friends but this is the kind of situation where one guy fills in the blanks of the other.

Their supposed friendship is tested when a new woman - France's Carol Laure (from Bertrand Blier's "Préparez vos mouchoirs"/"Get Out Your Handkerchiefs") - comes on the scene, and both respond to her.

Roth, who made one small impressive feature prior to this ("The Boss's Son," starring Asher Brauner as a possibly autobiographical character named ... Bobby Rose), economically conveys the competitiveness between the two men in an early gym scene where they stand in front of a mirror, both shirtless, sizing up each other's chests.

The supporting cast includes Kathryn Harrold, Max Gail, George Morfogen and the invaluable Carol Wayne, excellent here. The great Michael Ballhaus did the cinematography; Tangerine Dream the music. It's troubling that this fine film remains virtually unknown.
Mancuso! He's Eli, the killer-businessman, utterly driven

Note in Passing: Roth's "Heartbreakers" is not to be confused with David Mirkin's 2001 comedy, "Heartbreakers," starring Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee and Gene Hackman.


Tom Brady said...

There clearly was a new aesthetic among quasi-studio films of the mid to late 1980s, sparked I think by the rediscovery of Altman. There was another film from the same period - "Miracle Mile" which I believe you also wrote about here. I sometimes think that the Film Comment piece on that film's legendary script is the single most influential piece of film criticism of the last 25 years. It poked at young cinephiles to look a movies in a different way. But where is "Miracle Mile" now? And where is its talented young director, Steve De Jarnatt? Probably the same place where Roth is now - on TV. In the end, these exciting films had little impact and even less staying power Some of the enthusiasm for them is just an updating of the good old Dadaist urge to shock and transgress with something new, but there is also a wide spectrum of worthiness that was ultimately trashed.

Chris said...

Heartbreakers and Miracle Mile both strongly benefit from Soundtracks by Tangerine Dream.

One can have excellent fun following Tangerine Dreams' soundtrack career through movies like Freidkin's Sorcerer and Mann's Thief without running into a dud very often.

Chris in Tucson

richard l. said...

I used to watch both movies, 'Heartbreakers' and Miracle Mile', if I remember correctly- on the old Z Channel in Los Angeles.
Z Channel ran Director's cuts and 'obscure' American and foreign films.
They were, all to soon, bought out by a sports channel.
Last I looked, I found that 'Heartbreakers' was unavailable on DVD. I'm not sure about 'Miracle Mile' with a fine performance by a young Anthony Edwards.
For me, both ran circles around most of the Hollywood mainstream films that came out around that time, and since then too. The endings of both movies 'get me' every time I have a chance to see them.
I wish someone would offer DVD versions of them.

joe baltake said...

Great posts, guys. And, yes, I did cover Steve De Jarnatt's singular "Miracle Mile" - way back in 2008:

Tom said...

Heartbreakers was fantastic movie. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Liotta, who turns in a hilarious turn as Dean, in a blatant send-up of his mobster screen persona.

joe baltake said...

Wrong film, Tom! Your thinking of the Sigourney Weaver movie referred to in my Note in Passing.

mtngeyser said...

I sure wish HEARTBREAKERS would be released on DVD or Blu...the original version with the scene that was cut to avoid an X rating.