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Film Title

Playing by Heart


Willard Carroll


  • Sean Connery as Paul
  • Gena Rowlands as Hannah
  • Angelina Jolie as Joan
  • Ryan Phillippe as Keenan
  • Gillian Anderson as Meredith
  • Jon Stewart as Trent
  • Ellen Burstyn as Mildred
  • Jay Mohr as Mark
  • Madeleine Stowe as Gracie
  • Anthony Edwards as Roger
  • Dennis Quaid as Hugh

A drama of relationships peppered with comedy, excellent writing and an all-star cast, Playing by Heart brims with emotional clarity, great dialogue and touching but witty insights into the various facets of love.

Playing by Heart focuses on the various kinds of loves, heart breaks and relationships of a seemingly disparate group of people living in Los Angeles. Playing by Heart PosterThere is older married couple Paul and Hannah, who are approaching forty years of marriage and renewing their vows. There is the matter of Paul being diagnosed with a brain tumor, but this doesn’t dampen his spirit though it worries his wife. They must also deal with a present from the past as Hannah finds evidence that suggests that Paul may have been unfaithful during their marriage. Wildly dressed extrovert and wannabe actress Joan is found in the land of night clubs, living life to the absolute maximum. One night after dumping her boyfriend, she meets handsome but standoffish loner Keenan. Joan likes the guy, but he is cold and distant from her, which puzzles her. Sure enough, she begins to break through the barriers he has put up with her charisma and exuberance. Gillian Anderson Playing by HeartTheatre director Meredith has all but given up on love after being hurt do many times and chooses to remain single. Yet this doesn’t stop affable architect Trent from pursuing her in a genuinely romantic way. Organised Mildred is forced to come to terms with the fact that her gay son Mark is dying of AIDS and attempts to mend their fractured relationship before it is too late by being honest with him for once in her life. Gracie, a married woman who is bored, is having an affair with Roger, who wants more out of the relationship than just sex. And finally there is the mournful Hugh, who travels from bar to bar, reeling off his tragic stories to women that will listen. Yet, his tales seem to change rapidly from night to night. Little by little, we begin to see the way that each seemingly separate story is connected in some way or another.

Writer/director Willard Carroll fashions a multi-stranded mosaic on the topic of love and the different ways it is expressed between people. Love is a subject that is more than well covered on films, but Carroll manages to give something to it with the multiple stories and characters. His script mixes tragedy, comic moments and blossoming romance with excellent results. Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands Playing by HeartIt’s great to listen to his witty dialogue that captures the changing fortunes of the very different characters going through various kinds of love. Playing by Heart may not offer much in the way of being the most original movie, but that doesn’t make it any less good or accomplished. With a nice visual style of night-time Los Angeles, we feel the longings, passions and losses of these people. This is further given strength by a minimal but impactful score of trickling piano, tinged with jazz from the legendary John Barry. Playing by Heart is a well paced movie where something is always happening. Some of the middle half drags due to one uninvolving story thread, but the breadth of the other tales brings it back to greatness. There is something so natural about the way this movie explores relationships, I can’t explain it but it just feels so well done. I really liked watching how all the stories eventually connected, it was really orchestrated well through little things.

The marvellous ensemble cast is a real treat and adds significant amounts of talent to their respective parts. Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands have a winning chemistry as an older couple overcoming the hurdles that present themselves. These two actors are such pros and you see the twinkling in the eye of Connery and the warmth of Rowlands in every scene. Angelina Jolie Playing by HeartStealing the show throughout the movie is Angelina Jolie as the energetic and wild Joan. Imbuing the character with chatty verve, unusual dress sense and a quick, over the top humour, she is utterly delightful in the part that could have become annoying, but becomes instead lovable due to the presence of Jolie. Ryan Phillippe contributes some of his best work as the emotionally shut off Keenan, who gradually comes out of his shell because his attracted to Joan. There is Gillian Anderson who marvellously conveys the feelings of distrust in relationship that begin to wither when someone genuine takes an interest. Jon Stewart is that someone and he has a real madcap sense of humour to add to the mix. Ellen Burstyn Playing by HeartThe always talented Ellen Burstyn is an emotional marvel as the mother trying to reconnect with her son and her scenes with Jay Mohr are really emotional highlights of the film as they are both able to be frank with one another. The one story that I didn’t find that involving was the one featuring Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Edwards having an affair. This isn’t the fault of the actors who are both well cast, it’s just that their story is a bit stale. Thankfully, Dennis Quaid makes up for that with his strange turn as the drunken Hugh, who switches his stories every night. It is a great showcase for Dennis Quaid as an actor.

Warm-hearted, funny and moving at many times, Playing by Heart brings a talented cast, colorfully drawn characters and exceptional dialogue together with care and sense of depth.