Sunday, March 6, 2011

Review: A Heartbeat Away

A Heartbeat Away
Dir. Gale Edwards
Year: 2011
Aus Rating: PG
Running Time: 91mins

I know it’s a bad sign when I am already looking around me within 30 seconds of a film beginning to gauge whether an audience is as taken aback as I. Such was the case during the opening credits of A Heartbeat Away, a film that takes mere minutes to stamp itself as Australia’s answer to The Room; an episode of SeaChange as directed by Tommy Wiseau. What begins as a potentially misguided, amateurish effort winds up a startling, discombobulating moviegoing experience that I shan’t too soon forget. A Heartbeat Away is an appalling effort from everyone involved that will have you questioning what everybody was thinking.

If you want plot, you get plot! And repeated over and over again, too! Set in Montague – because Shakespeare is exactly what this movie needed more of – A Heartbeat Away positions itself as a fantasy fable about a young rock musician who must take over his father’s ailing marching band after said father is nearly killed in a car accident. There’s enough quote unquote wackiness and quirkiness to fill the MCG, but nothing can quite prepare you for the amount of eye-popping awfulness that eventually presents itself for ridicule and mocking.

Much like The Room, it appears to have been directed by someone so hopelessly amateurish who knows not a thing about filmmaking, up to and including working with actors, dialogue, pacing, editing, cinematography, sets and plain old good taste. Gale Edwards is normally a stage director, apparently opera is her forte, and this makes so much sense in retrospect since she is probably used to dealing with overflowing stage presence in another language. Maybe Edwards has no idea how people actually talk in the real world? Maybe she’s never watched a movie since Star Wars in 1978 when swipe cuts were fancy and page roll edits were like something from the future.

Or, more likely, Edwards hasn’t seen a movie since 1983 when Flashdance was all the rage. How else to explain the inexplicable sequence where a young, attractive girl played by Isabel Lucas (as in played by an alien from Mars) dances to an awful pop tune surrounded by spotlights whilst wearing the costume wardrobe to Perfect.

I literally could not even begin to describe all the scenes from this movie that defy space, time, logic and reasoning. Like when Sebastian Gregory’s Kevin states that the marching band’s new routine must be top secret and yet they practice outdoors. Or how about the music store, in this town of surely no more than several thousand, that is somehow able to stock priceless guitars and somehow remains open for business despite there never even being a single customer? Or how about Colin Friels, who suddenly starts talking in a new accent as if he got bored on day and felt the need for a change? Or how about, strangest of all, the use of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to show off how young and hip the marching band really are. “Play something new and now! The Arctic Monkeys! Red Hot Chilli Peppers!” Kevin tells his ramshackle collection of old fogies. They probably were new and now when the dust was blown off of Julie Kincade’s dilapidated screenplay. To further show how hip this movie is to the young mindset of its lead character, there are musical sequences set to Amii Stewart’s “Knock on Wood” and Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park”.

There’s really no excuse for how this screenplay got so far. The press screening I was at featured howls of laughter, which says a lot from a group that is usually quite reserved. My personal favourite – it’s A Heartbeat Away’s own “I definitely have breast cancer” moment – was when Lucas’ artistic Mandy says she’s leaving town and “going to Sydney to study law”, as if she was just going to hop on a train, knock on the front door of a university and say “I’M HERE TO STUDY LAW! EDUCATE ME!” It’s truly some of the funniest stuff I’ve seen in a very long time, but it’s actually quite insulting that this gets made and somehow released through a major distributor when there are plenty of talented writers and filmmakers out there who can’t catch a break. Never mind, those involved – behind the camera, at least – will surely never set foot on a film set again and, for that, we can all be grateful. F


Alice said...

Oh dear. I'm afraid I must agree, I am honestly confounded as to why this movie is getting a theatrical release.

Your The Room comparison made me giggle.

Glenn Dunks said...

I know, right? That Hoyts are bothering to distribute it (although their website had the date wrong and who knows how many cinemas it's actually going out to) is baffling.

Julian Buckeridge said...

You know I agree, Glenn, but the strangest thing is that the people I talked to at the AFI screening really enjoyed it.

I am scared that Red Dog will follow in this film's footsteps.

Glenn Dunks said...

Julian, I wouldn't put too much stock into the AFI crowd. My very first year as an AFI member and I witnessed a crowd of voters clapping at a screening of Footy Legends, one movie that trumps A Heartbeat Away for pure awfulness in my books. That one ended up going nowhere.

Also, re Red Dog - you seem far more sour towards it than I, but those who have seen it quite like it. I think it could have a very solid Babe-ish quality to it if done right.

Julian Buckeridge said...

Oh, I was not a fan of Footy Legends but everyone else in my Film Studies class loved it. It aided my growing cynicism of humanity.

As for Red Dog, I am actually quite hopeful that it will be alright. I like the casting but the presentation of the story in the trailer made me squeamish.

Anonymous said...

You'll be horrified to find out that the producing team behind this turd of a film was Chris Fitchett ex CEO of the Australian Film Comission now Screen Australia and Chris Brown who has just been given another dollop of public funding for another film..go to Encore magazine and read all about it..