One From the Heart (1982)

Genres - Comedy, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Romantic Comedy  |   Run Time - 101 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Francis Ford Coppola's One From the Heart can be generously described as an experiment gone wrong, a case of style trumping substance, and of aspirations outpacing reality. But with its shallow characters and thin plot greatly overwhelmed by production design, the movie ultimately sinks under the weight of its misguided artistic pretensions. The film centers on Franny (Teri Garr) and Hank (Frederic Forrest), a clearly unhappy couple who go their separate ways for a night in Las Vegas (built entirely on a soundstage, a fact the film proudly advertises). They end up spending the night with their respective fantasies -- piano player Ray (Raul Julia) and circus performer Leila (Nastassja Kinski) -- before suddenly realizing they were meant for one another after all. Great romances have been built on less, but One From the Heart is remarkable for just how uninterested it is in its characters. With so much attention being paid to the technical elements of the film, the actors struggle to assert themselves. Garr's innate likeability mostly carries her through, Julia has a certain slippery charm, and Kinski finds a nice balance between fantasy and reality. But the miscast Forrest plays such an unlikable jerk that it's impossible to root for him. As such, the central romance between Hank and Franny never works. The narrative plays such an underdeveloped role that the main draw of One From the Heart becomes the look of the film, with its stylized, stagy cinematography and showy use of lighting and sets. There are several striking visual moments in the film, but they're mostly detached from any emotional or symbolic content, decreasing their ultimate effectiveness. More than that, the visuals are often unnecessarily distracting; for instance, one angle of a scene will be lit with what looks like natural sunlight, another with an artificial red glow. Add in some tacky special effects and misplaced attempts at comedy, and the movie veers dangerously close to Xanadu territory (the two actually have choreographer Kenny Ortega in common). But there's also a grimy, depressing undercurrent that's at odds with the forced attempts at romance and surrealism. The Oscar-nominated song score by Tom Waits doesn't help much either. Setting aside whatever intrinsic quality the songs may have on their own, they become monotonous in the context of the film. Perhaps Coppola was seeking to subvert the traditional musical by placing "ordinary" characters and unconventional music into a highly stylized genre, but the result works neither as a critique of Hollywood nor as self-contained entertainment. Watchable only as a historical and technical curio, One From the Heart finds Coppola in over his head.