On last year's release schedule, "Playing
by Heart" was called "Dancing About Architecture," the idea
being, ostensibly, that it's as impossible to explain love
as it is to cha-cha in homage to Frank Lloyd Wright. The new
title is, in a post-Seinfeldian way, about nothing. The old
title at least provided a blueprint to writer-director Willard
Carrol's precarious construction of linked skits: The plot
of this romantic drama is, at heart, a feat of self-conscious
structural engineering. (For dramatic waltzing equal to the
greatest architectural masterpiece, there's Max Ophuls' "La
Carrol's idea is to shuffle struggling
couples under an inviting Los Angeles sky. (Master cinematographer
Vilmos Zsigmond, who shot "Close Encounters of the Third Kind,"
here makes L.A. look sexy -- and also innocent.) An uptight
single woman (Gillian Anderson) meets an attractive single
man (Jon Stewart) and works hard to screw things up.
A glitter-dusted club girl (Angelina Jolie) with a tough hide
and a soft center bumps up against a blue-haired club boy
(Ryan Phillippe) with a tough hide and a soft center, and
they fight their obvious rightness for each other. A tense
mother (Ellen Burstyn) flutters awkwardly around her dying
gay son (Jay Mohr). An aging couple (Gena Rowlands and Sean
Connery) faces a health crisis and relives an old marital
crisis. A stuck married couple (Dennis Quaid and Madeleine
Stowe) explores separate fantasies.
These pairs of Angelenos wear their quirks
so brightly, they might as well be dressed in safety orange.
The entertainment, then, comes down to performances by hip
actors, enjoying their nicely lit parts. It's fun to see Anderson
acting so self-destructively neurotic. It's neat to see Connery
and pitch-perfect Rowlands purring and growling like the Lion
King and Queen. And it's cool to see Jolie in anything, since,
with her high-rising talent, she stands out like a skyscraper
in this low-rise landscape.