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Heartbreakers

by Glenn Erickson Aug 13, 2022

The words offbeat, personal and edgy used to be a draw for movie fare — we’d check out a new relationship picture based only on an actor or two that we liked. Bobby Roth’s semi-autobiographical buddy story has a good stab at the early ’80s art + singles scene in Los Angeles, with a dash of macho clichés — pals Peter Coyote and Nick Mancuso fight in public and somehow suffer while bedding fantastic women. But the overall vibe is one of honest sensitivity, aided by fine performances from Carole Laure, Kathryn Harrold and Carol Wayne. Plus music by Tangerine Dream.


Heartbreakers
Blu-ray
Fun City Editions
1984 / Color / 1:85 / 99 min. / Street Date August 30, 2022 / Available from Amazon, Available from Vinegar Syndrome
Starring: Peter Coyote, Nick Mancuso, Carole Laure, Max Gail, James Laurenson, Carol Wayne, Jamie Rose, Kathryn Harrold, George Morfogen, Jerry Hardin, Henry Sanders, Walter Olkewicz.
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Production Designer: David Nichols
First Assistant Director: Jack Baran
Film Editor: John Carnochan
Original Music: Tangerine Dream
Produced by Bobby Roth, Bob Weis
Written and Directed by
Bobby Roth

We return to Fun City Editions, a disc label that has yet to let us down. It specializes in overlooked films of special merit, letting us rediscover Michael Ritchie’s Smile, Frank Perry’s Rancho Deluxe and Ivan Passer’s Born to Win. All are ‘special’ pictures.

I hadn’t remembered Heartbreakers, a feature that thrived on the early cable channels. Good acting, racy sex scenes and a mature outlook put it ahead of much of the competition in 1984. It fits into the same programming slot as Richard Donner’s Inside Moves: we spend 90 minutes with people perhaps more attractive or talented than we are, but with un-glamorous problems that earn our sympathy.

Heartbreakers plays out in L.A.’s art enclaves — the downtown loft spaces, the sidewalks of Melrose-West Hollywood. Writer-director Bobby Roth adapted some of its conflicts from his own background, exaggerating some details. Two buddies in their mid- 30’s are handsome enough to turn female heads. One leads an affluent lifestyle but has a self-esteem problem; the other is a frustrated artist. Do their problems keep them from finding female companionship?  Nope, the highly sexualized singles they pursue are too good to be true.

 

Artist Blue (Peter Coyote) has been concentrating on ‘fetish’ paintings of his model Candy Cane (Carol Wayne). Upset by his lack of career progress, he throws a temper tantrum in his loft artist’s studio that drives away his loyal girlfriend Cyd (Kathryn Harrold). Blue tries to sabotage the art show of his rival King (Max Gail), to whom Cyd has retreated. He then channels his jealousy into storming an art gallery and pushing his way past the dreamy receptionist Liliane (Carole Laure of Get Out Your Handkerchiefs). To his surprise, the esteemed gallery owner Terry Ray (James Laurenson) willingly schedules an art showing for Blue, in six weeks. Re-energized, he gets back to work.

Blue’s best buddy is Eli (Nick Mancuso), a playboy with a house in the hills, a fancy car and a fine wardrobe. Eli works for his father Max (George Morfogen), who manufactures sports outfits for the new Aerobics fad. Eli and Blue hang out at a mellow artists’ cafe called Duke’s. Eli frequents a gym, where Aerobics workout classes are a big draw. Eli has all but supported Blue for five years. His last, disastrous show was panned by newspaper art critic Warren Williams (Jerry Hardin); he now tools around L.A. in a junker Dodge that burns oil.

 

Both buddies are frustrated. Eli takes his affluence for granted and it vaguely ashamed to still be working for his father. He can always find a woman to sleep with but says he wants romance and commitment (sample dialogue: “I want romance! I want commitment!”)  Eli isn’t fully honest with himself — he’s jealous of Blue’s talent and complains that Blue has a habit of taking away Eli’s girlfriends. Cyd first slept with Eli before gravitating to Blue.

Both men have their infantile sides — Eli pouts and Blue loses his temper. He’s crushed that Cyd should take up with the successful artist King, and doubly hurt because he can’t really find any fault in his rival. King’s a nice guy.

History looks to repeat itself when Eli goes all out to meet and seduce the exotic, sensual Liliane. Once he’s bedded her, Eli seemingly doesn’t know how to make the relationship progress — with all his advantages, he lacks self-confidence. His response is to all but foist Liliane onto Blue. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, as if he wants to resent Blue again. The main conflict doubles back on the Buddy formula, with the women to some degree left on the outside.

 

Thus we have rather highly-charged scenes in the Aerobics studio, the art gallery and in a fancy dance clubs, where Eli encourages Liliane to dance with Blue. She gyrates to Pat Benatar music and the air is thick with sexual possibilities. Liliane’s intial reserve and coldness disappears with just a little effort from both men; despite the non-exploitative screenplay, the women remain 1980s accessories. Although they give doubtful looks to Blue’s paintings of Candy in S&M costumes, all bare thighs and hungry expressions, the women are more than willing to help Blue work out his ‘artistic demons.’

Other scenes sound more exploitative than they are. Blue’s model Candy Cane is informed by the casting of Carol Wayne, a statuesque beauty most famous for years of mild skits on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. Speaking in a breathy, baby-doll voice, Wayne’s developed her clueless dumb blonde character in small parts that include a couple of Blake Edwards pictures. Heartbreakers gives her a chance to illuminate the problem of an intelligent showgirl in her own career trap. Posing in impossibly bosomy leather gear, Candy says she prefers exploiting her chest to a dull job. Yet she’s frustrated that Blue uses her solely as a visual fetish object — he projects his lust into his artwork, leaving her feeling hollow.

Blue mildly rejects Candy’s advances, and we’re meant to decide that he is indeed a principled artist. As everybody can sleep with anybody in this highly sexualized world, the connection gets made anyway. Blue and Eli connect with Candy after hours at a supermarket, and end up naked with her back at her place. She’s just looking for a good time too. The scene is cut off before its content can slip from ‘R’ to ‘X’ material, but it’s still plenty racy. As expected, Eli backs out of this party, once again deferring to his ladykiller artist friend. It’s not unreasonable to interpret Eli’s lack of follow-through as a latent attraction to Blue.

 

These sex encounters are unusually sensitive yet still conceived from a macho point of view. Spontaneous demonstrations of sexuality are the norm. The women are mainly present to help the men get what they want. Cook a nice meal for Candy, and before you know it she’s stripping. Sit in your Cadillac and make bedroom eyes at Liliane, and she’ll respond by removing her top. Old girlfriend Kathryn Harrold never fully disrobes, something that actresses in the late ’70s- early ’80s often found was a requirement for work. Did natural exhibitionists have an advantage?  Heartbreakers intrigues because Bobby Roth’s feelings come across as genuine just the same.

We once figured out that a gender turning point for movie sex attitudes arrived in the early ’90s. The filmic gaze turned to a female point of view, and we were suddenly given male sex symbols like Brad Pitt. The women began keeping their tops on, whereas Pitt & Co. might show bare butts. In a costume picture the women now had proper period hairstyles. But Brad Pitt could fight in a WW1 trench wearing a stylish pony tail, because women found him sexy.

We’ve always liked Peter Coyote, a fellow who can make a jerk character seem sympathetic without demanding absolution. I’m not a fan of his costume here — the black leather jacket never seems quite right. I guess my positive memory of Coyote is limited to just a few films. I liked him a lot in the little-seen Crooked Hearts, as the father to an interesting lineup of younger actors. We’re not as familiar with Nick Mancuso; his character Eli was a familiar type in Hollywood-adjacent business, guys with money but few skills except the ability to push people around.

 

Carole Laure was already firmly established in France with numerous starring roles. In his video piece Bobby Roth says all the top French actresses were keen to work in the U.S.. Laure delivers her brand of sensuality with style and grace; the script doesn’t give her character much depth but she compensates with soulful, intelligent eyes. Again, the ‘romantic’ scenes want us to think that a woman’s sure sign of commitment is spontaneous disrobing. Well, it fits the lifestyle.

Kathryn Harrold gets eighth billing in Heartbreakers but is fondly remembered from several much-seen pictures, too often as ‘the girl’ (The Hunter, The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper) but also for excellent work in the enduring comedy Modern Romance, putting up with an even more infantile male, Albert Brooks.

Although given better billing Jamie Rose is mostly limited to the Aerobics scenes, which exclusively feature hard-bodied participants with great hairstyles. The gyms of West Hollywood are where the beautiful folk congregated, to show off their youth and prosperity. The gym scenes here do not become self-parodies. The nadir of Aerobics-related filmmaking came a few years earlier in the horrendous Lily Tomlin / John Travolta ‘romance’ Moment by Moment.

 

Heartbreakers’ gay gallery owner Terry Ray is well-judged. James Laurenson’s art businessman is a stand-up guy who makes solid decisions and keeps his word. He also sings Gilbert and Sullivan well while toasting Blue’s success, a very nice touch. Blue never feels that he’s being treated poorly, even when the gallery takes a 60% cut of all sales.

The show’s lasting center of interest is probably the Carol Wayne connection — her character has an in-depth autobiographical quality. Going beyond the busty showgirl for Johnny Carson, Wayne’s Candy Cane acknowledges the split fantasy aspect of her daily personality. At certain times Candy speaks with the little girl voice, but she projects tough and hard when challenging Blue’s attraction/indifference to her sex lure. Those acquainted with Ms. Wayne were impressed with her intelligence and attitude. Had she not died the next year under controversial circumstances, it was thought she would have gone on to a more varied career.

As the carnival huckster says, check out Heartbreakers for the interesting actors or the steamy seduction scenes, and maybe stay because the characters are interesting. We were never bored and often quite involved. At the very least Bobby Roth’s look at a ‘troubled artist’ isn’t phony from the get-go. For a finale Mr. Roth opts for an emotional breakdown / Buddy-buddy epiphany that respects our intelligence, and feels sincere.

 


 

Fun City Editions’ Blu-ray of Heartbreakers is a Region A-only Blu-ray, listed as a new 2K restoration from a 35mm interpositive (what other labels would call ‘the original negative’). It hasn’t been seen much since cable TV and VHS, so this widescreen remastering job is very attractive. Michael Ballhaus’s color cinematography captures the look of L.A. at all hours, without the glitzy disco stylings that were the rule in 1984. It’s a very attractive movie.

The Tangerine Dream music track will be a big draw for some; it’s also presented in its own discrete music track. I’ve been a big fan of other TD scores, especially their eerie music for Shy People. The main theme for this show and the tunes backing the Aerobics scenes sound more like generic synth tracks to me. Several years of dull synth keyboard movie ‘scores’ at Cannon didn’t help my appreciation of the trend.

We’re surprised to learn that the version of Heartbreakers on this disc is actually the uncut ‘X’ version of the film, with a longer sex scene between Eli, Blue and Candy. That explains how things seem to get a little too explicit for a typical 1984 ‘R.’  Correspondent ‘Ken’ informs me that the disc has two Easter Eggs on the main menu. One contains the ‘R’ rated cut-down of the sex scene that was exhibited in theaters, and another gives us director Roth’s save tape of deleted scenes, 17 minutes’ worth.

Fun City again gives special attention to the extras. Bobby Roth, Nick Mancuso and Peter Coyote turn in interesting new video talks. Mr. Roth is forthright and candid about the experience and seems quite a nice guy. We learn right away that the character ‘Blue’ is named after a friend of Roth’s, the celebrated artist Robert Blue. The paintings used in the film are Robert Blue’s as well.

The audio commentary with Chris O’Neill and Bill Ackerman presents some of the same information in a more structured way. We like that Fun City doesn’t tap the same six or so ‘conversational experts’ heard on so many other Blu-ray discs.

We especially like the essays in the included pamphlet. Richard Harland Smith’s exellent overall piece is preceded by Margaret Barton-Fumo’s look at the film’s music choices. I defer to her knowledge and taste.

The disc box uses original ad art, which is not so good. It can be reversed if one would rather look at Fun City’s commissioned artwork, which I think is by Pip Carter. Not only is it much nicer, we can actually identify the actors.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


Heartbreakers
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements:
Illustrated pamphlet with essays by Richard Harland Smith and Margaret Barton-Fumo
Audio commentary with Chris O’Neill and Bill Ackerman
Pieces of My Life video with director Bobby Roth
Mr. Amour and the Outsider video with stars Peter Coyote and Nick Mancuso
Video intro by Bobby Roth
Image Gallery
Isolated music track.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
July 9, 2022
(6777hear)
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About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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