Wednesday, March 07, 2018

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

Five years before Steven Soderberg's "Sex, Lies and Videotape" took the movie industry by storm at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival, officially kicking off the New Wave in American filmmaking, there were two compelling "in-between" films from 1984 that 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 "indie" about them and yet they really aren't exactly independent movies.

And they aren't exactly mainstream either.

One was Alan Rudolph's "Choose Me," which opens with Jan Kiesser's "swoony cinematography" (Pauline Kael's words) trailing Lesley Ann Warren's sensual movements as she sashays down a noir street. And then there's  "Heartbreakers," Bobby Roth's provocative piece about something that's been commonly evasive - namely, friendship between two men.

I'm less concerned with "Choose Me," because Rudolph went on to have something of a high-profile career, albeit in the shadow of his mentor, Robert Altman, and only briefly. 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, excellent as mother and daughter. Peter Coyote, who co-starred, is also one of Roth's two male leads in his "Heartbreakers."

Coyote is Blue, a lanky, overgrown boy who ostensibly works as an artist but is not commercially successful at it. While he's the kind of guy who easily attracts multiple women, Blue is down to one woman, someone who finally could no longer take his rampant immaturity and left. Nick Mancuso is the more mature Eli, a driven, successful businessman (he's largely in the "son business") and an experienced womanizer, smooth and confident.

Women are drawn to him, too.

Their success with women aside, Blue and Eli are an odd pair to be friends, with little else in common. But this is one of those cases where one guy fills in the blanks of the other. Their 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. Both men want her.

Roth economically conveys the competitiveness between the guys in an early gym scene as they stand in front of a locker room mirror, side-by-side and shirtless, furtively sizing up each other. He has a particularly astute, observing eye when it comes to men and their relationships, a subject that's popped up with regularity in his work, hitting a peak with his 2003 film, the tersely titled "Manhood," starring Nestor Carbonell as a reformed - you guessed it - womanizer.

Prior to "Heartbreakers," he made three small features, with one of them, 1978's "The Boss's Son," perhaps offering clues into Roth's personality. The movie stars Asher Brauner as a possibly autobiographical character named ... Bobby Rose. Not much is known about his personal life, but I'm willing to bet the rent money that Bobby Roth once worked for his father.

His supporting cast here includes Kathryn Harrold, Max Gail, George Morfogen and the invaluable Carol Wayne, who is excellent. The great Michael Ballhaus did the cinematography; Tangerine Dream the music.

"Heartbreakers" can be troubling - it dares you to avert your eyes - but what's more troubling is that this singular film remains virtually unknown.

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. 

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.

* * * * *
(from top) 

~Poster art for "Heartbreakers"

~Peter Coyote as Blue, the lanky, not-exactly-sensitive artist in "Heartbreakers"
~photography: Orion 1984©

~Nick Mancuso as Eli, the killer-businessman, utterly driven
~photography: Orion 1984©


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.

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.

Bunuel 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

Brian Lucas 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.

joe baltake said...

Great post, guys - Brian, Richard and you, too, Chris - and thanks for referencing Steve De Jarnatt's singular "Miracle Mile." Yes, I did cover way it - back in 2008:

Marvin Halpern said...


HEARTBREAKERS and THE BOSS'S SON are available through, but only as VHS tapes. And the costs of the HEARTBREAKERS VHS tapes are high. Still, if you like the film well enough?
I think the lowest cost for a HEARTBREAKERS VHS tape is around $35. MANHOOD is available on DVD.


joe baltake said...

Marvin! Many thanks for the heads-up. Good news about the availability of all three Roth films. -J

Mike said...

Very nice topic, thank you very much!

Heartbreakers was fantastic movie.