Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Like the name implies, there are two films trapped inside director Bryan Poyser's latest effort: "Love" being one half, and "Air Sex" being the other. One film is a sometimes charming, sweet, and funny meditation on love between twenty-somethings, while the other is an aggressively unfunny aside that almost derails the entire film (take a guess at which one is which).
Aspiring filmmaker Stan (Michael Stahl-David) and pre-med student Cathy (Ashley Bell) find love in balmy Austin, but life drives the two to opposite coasts; Stan seeks his dreams under the bright lights of Hollywood, while Cathy heads to the wintery Northeast to attend a prestigious medical school in New York. Six months later, Sean's Hollywood aspirations have landed him in a pizza joint, while Cathy feels disconnected from her med school peers. When Stan catches wind that Cathy is flying home to Austin for the weekend, he can't help but "accidentally" fly home on the same weekend as his ex. The obviousness of Stan's gambit isn't lost on their friends Jeff and Kara, who are in the middle of a breakup of their own. The two ex-lovers try to avoid each other during the weekend, but as one of the characters comments, Austin is a small city, and the pair do threaten to bump into each other, whether by coincidence or by design.
When focusing on the relationships among the four leads, Love and Air Sex works well enough. All four come close to becoming fully rounded characters, and the dialogue is witty enough to entertain. The characters send spiked sexual jabs at each other, while hiding the simmering frustration over lost relationships. Throughout the film, our heroes try some new relationships on for size, and while some of them blossom with probability, others are a halted by old yearnings. Poyser shows a intimate understanding of the awkwardness and comedy of damaged romances, and how admitting one's true feelings can sometimes feel like a herculean labor.
The other half of the title, the "Air Sex," is unfortunately, where the film falls apart. First, let's back up and explain what "Air Sex" actually is: a very real competition where participants are tasked with creating explicit and racy sexual scenarios with a disembodied partner (think air guitar, but with more pelvic thrusts). These sessions of sexual "air-tercourse" get as obscene and vulgar as all get out. But the worst thing about these routines isn't that they're too perverse (and they are pretty perverse), but that they're hardly ever funny or entertaining, and that's a huge fault considering the idea takes up half the title. Jeff uses Air Sex as a scheme to get free beer (the winner of the local Air Sex competition gets to drink free for a year), but it's really an emotional pick-me-up after his break up from Kara. These epic sexual pantomimes go on for minutes at a time and quickly grow annoying. What might have been chuckle worthy sight-gag is ballooned into half of the film's focus, and the Air Sex side plot becomes completely obnoxious as the film grinds into its final act. The biggest crime is that all the time focusing on the Air Sex competition robs the film of time it could have used to put the main characters into better focus. Unless you enjoy sexual wordplay like "Hugh G. Rection" or "F**kasaurus Sex," and a lot of air humping, you might spend much of these sequences rolling your eyes.
Love and Air Sex is a deeply confused film. It wants to be a raunchy comedy and a heartfelt indie romance, but it's constantly weighed down by trying to serve both masters. What's left is a Frankenstein-like mess of a creature that resembles a pleasant romantic comedy sloppily sewed into a terrible raunchy bore. The results are sometimes charming, sometimes groan-inducing, and full of wasted promise.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.