September 5th, 2002
Two major problem with the majority of lower budgeted romantic comedies today is that the eccentric secondary characters are more entertaining than the leads whose story we're supposed to care about, and that they have storylines that are just too reminiscent of older, better films. Add Heartbreak Hospital, slowly rolling out across the United States during the latter half of 2002, to the list.
In New York City, Neely, a struggling actress ready to quit her craft after one too many rejections and marry her Spanish boyfriend Tonio, gets hired for a bit role on a soap opera, much to the chagrin of her kooky neighbor Lottie, who believes she is dating Milo, the older but still somewhat hunky lead doctor on the show, who has a history with Sunday, the diva lead actress of the show... deep breath... whose character on the show may or may not be trying to kill the doctor guy, who herself ends up being murdered by the kooky neighbor Lottie, even though Neely and Tonio have moved away from the kooky neighbor Lottie since Neely's part has not only grown from a bit part but has become the lead actress on the show after Sunday's murder, which the police believe was perpetrated by Tonio, who was with Sunday in her swanky apartment uptown just before the murder because he and Neely had been fighting about her success... deep breath... because Tonio is just some second rate chef who makes his specialty spaghetti sauce which is only sold at one restaurant in all of New York City, and... oh, eventually, the cops figure out it wasn't Tonio, because the doorman at Sunday's building remembers Tonio leaving before the probable time of the murder, which means the cops need to find a new suspect, which they do eventually find, because Lottie, the still nutty former neighbor, now wants to kill Lottie because Lottie's character on the show is marrying the doctor guy played by Milo, who Lottie is still in love with, so Lottie breaks into Neely's apartment and tries to kill her with the same knife she kiied Sunday with, but the murder attempt is foiled, so Lottie escapes from the apartment... deep breath... oh, and Lottie is wearing a wedding dress for some reason when she decided to kill Neely, and the first mode of transportation Lottie sees when she tries to escape is a bicycle, so the cops are chasing some wedding dress wearing psychopath on a bike, but when they finally corner her on a bridge over the East River, she does the only logical thing but to jump from the bridge, which means everything is totally cool at the end, and Neely quits the show so she and Tonio can get married. The end.
Okay, so I could have written a much more insightful and less descriptive plot description. But this is the kind of weirdly frenetic but unsatisfying energy the film gives off. John Shea and Diane Venora, two very talented actors who rarely are allowed to shine in bigger productions than this, are the only reason to see this film. As the leads of the titular soap opera, they have fun with their roles without getting too hammy. Like a low rent version of Soapdish's Kevin Kline and Sally Field (the film Heartbreak Hospital will mostly, and unfavorably, be compared to), they are the ones this story should have followed. The leads we are given here, Chelsea Altman and Mexican star Demián Bichir (in his first American feature), are simply too bland to be interesting. Like Shea and Venora, they have been given two dimensional characters, but unlike their older and more talented costars, don't have the presense of mind to attempt to create any mildly interesting characteristics for their performances. Perhaps we can blame first time writer/director Ruedi Gerber for the overall insipidness of their performance. We certainly can blame Gerber for the overall lack of style and substance.
Sadly, I must give special attention to Patricia Clarkson's unbalanced performance as the crazy Lottie. Clarkson has a unique presense and style, which just does not work in this role. She deserves much better than this, and her recent stints on Fraiser and Six Feet Under should give her the attention she should have received years ago.
I give Heartbreak Hospital an B- for effort and a D for execution, with most of the effort points going to Shea and Venora. Better luck next time, kids.
My rating: D