' ' Cinema Romantico: Heartlands

Monday, July 30, 2012


The adage with road trip movies is “it’s the journey, not the destination.” Ah, but sometimes the destination IS just as important and insightful and interesting as the journey. Not that the journey isn’t also important and insightful and interesting, but that the journey is precisely what yields the result once the destination has been reached. “Heartlands”, the 2002 UK film directed by Damien O’Donnell, is, to be sure, brimming with clichés, and yet all of these clichés don’t get battered into submission so much as they roll lazily off the sides of the Honda 50 moped ridden so heroically by our main character, Colin (Michael Sheen).

That the movie works as profoundly as it does is a testament to the versatile talents of Mr. Sheen. His Colin is meekly mannered, droopy, resembling what an adult would probably look like in a Peanuts cartoon, bearing a perm that evokes a real Bozo the Clown recast in the English countryside. That a man once in a longtime relationship with Kate Beckinsale can so evince a character who never in hundreds of thousands of years could be in a longtime relationship with Kate Beckinsale is the stuff of all the Oscars.

Colin is a cashier at a newsstand named for his wife Sandra (Jane Robbins), He likes to toss a game of darts down at the local pub and dream of playing one on one with the greatest dart-thrower in the whole of England, Eric Bristow. Alas, the captain, Geoff, of the dart team, his one respite, is having an affair with Sandra. And when he discovers this, he calls her on it and she chooses to run off with Geoff to the big darts tournament in faraway Blackpool. But for once Colin won’t sit there and take it. Instead he takes to his trusty moped and sets off to win back the hand of fair Sandra.

So……let’s the consult the checklist for these sorts of cinematic endeavors, shall we? 1.) Colin will meet eccentrics on the road who will offer prescient advice. 2.) Colin will, of course, re-earn the love of Sandra with a Big Speech. 3.) Colin will defeat Geoff at darts in the Big Tournament. 4.) Colin will meet and receive advice from Eric Bristow, his Hero. To which I say, woah! See those horses? Hold ‘em!

Yes, he meets a few eccentrics on the road (one not-so eccentric is the real life Kate Rusby whose tuneage makes up the wonderful soundtrack), but they are less wacky than whimsical and, yet, in the face of that whimsy the screenplay by Paul Fraser generally prevents them from speaking entirely in the language of the platitude. Rather the film lets Colin quietly and visually come to terms with what all these encounters mean the grand scheme. And upon Colin’s inevitable arrival in Blackpool, the resolutions are not quite what you expect. For all these essentially zany elements – the darts, the moped, the mischievous youngsters back home minding Colin’s shop – the conclusion is honest and melancholy.

He reaches this destination on account of his journey, literally and metaphorically, which sounds elementary but is atypical. And as the camera pulls away in the marvelous closing shot, leaving Colin all on his own, we are no longer worried for his well being. We know he'll be okay.

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