By: Addison Wylie
Heartbeat is a nice party guest that’s too shy to say anything. After a while, you’re a little annoyed that they haven’t involved themselves more. And when they finally speak up, they fish for compliments in a coy manner but also try and convince you that they have low self esteem. By the end of the night, cleaning up crushed red cups and mopping up spilled brew is more fun than trying to initiate a spark of interest with this particular person.
The film’s lead character, Justine, fits this bill as well, and we feel the same sort of frustration as we follow her around and wait for her inevitable enlightenment. Justine (played by Tanya Davis) is a musician who is running low on gumption and courage. She faints in front of a crowd of barflies when faced with an open mic, and she is always leaving her guitar at her on-again-off-again boyfriend’s place.
When faced with an off-beat lead, the audience has to have reason to care for their quirky personality. Napoleon Dynamite and few offsprings like Eagle vs. Shark and Me and You and Everyone We Know have bent the rules, but those films were funny and oddly heartfelt. Heartbeat is a Xerox of a photocopy of those three films, and Justine’s perkiness is just plain pesky.
She goes through life shuffling her feet, muttering, and looking onward with a fixated dopey unfeeling grin. She would be apathetic if she had a clue.
Davis, who’s a singer and songwriter in real life, has a unique musical sound. She plays around with poetry, and her lyrics often have a staccato rhythm to them. However, other than having a novel tune, Justine is just not very interesting and Davis doesn’t do anything outstanding to leave a lasting impression. She’s a wimpy Lena Dunham, or a reserved Miranda July. However, I do admire her extensive work on the film’s soundtrack.
Heartbeat finds itself on a predictable path to self-realization. Justine unwinds and “finds herself” through local musical pixie Ruby (played by Stephanie Clattenburg) where they jam and become closer. They involve and surround themselves in the local music scene where artists are all cutesy and odd in their own special ways.
Filmmaker/screenwriter Andrea Dorfman obviously supports local businesses and community, but it’s also quite obvious that she has been exposed to frantic first-time parents and pretentious personas among acquaintances and workplace employers. I wonder how those people will feel when they endure blunt sequences of Dorfman mocking them. They’ll probably shrug it off due to how amateur the jabs are. The filmmaker is having the last laugh in an empty room.
Occasionally, I would receive a surprise in the form of an attractive shot. For instance, I liked the display window Justine and Ruby hung out in, and I really liked how it looked from across the street.
Dorfman’s film could’ve been an arrogant vanity project for Davis and other musicians. It isn’t, and I greatly appreciate that. But, Heartbeat is far too gentle and generic to be even considered genuine.