Writer, director and producer Willard Carroll was inspired to write this story of 11 characters and their quest for love by a friend who told him: "Talking about love is like dancing about architecture." The latter part of the phrase was the film's original working title and such catchphrases are typical of this multi-stranded romance's dialogue. Female characters talk of being "anger balls" and there are many cringe-worthy, cliché-packed ""let's examine our relationship" conversations.
It's easy to see why Playing By Heart attracted such a big-name cast. Most of the scenes are simple two-handers, providing plenty of opportunity for emoting and possible Supporting Oscar nominations. Unfortunately, the resulting movie was virtually ignored on its release in the States because, no matter how big the stars are, they can't salvage what is essentially a dull, big-screen soap.
For Playing By Heart to be a success, each segment would have to work. Instead, a few couples start to dominate. Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands become more interesting as the film progresses and Ryan Phillipe and Angelina Jolie (future stars in search of a better vehicle) liven up proceedings whenever they appear. But this only serves to make scenes featuring the other couples even more irritating, especially those involving Dennis Quaid as the lying barfly and Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart as a couple whose relationship is unnecessarily angst-filled.
Despite the on-location shoot (they filmed in 27 different places around LA), the whole thing feels very stagey, with even the poorest characters living in opulent apartments and the seediest bars looking like sitcom hang-outs. There are moments when Playing By Heart works, but they are few and far between. It would have made a passable TV movie but as big-screen entertainment it's sadly lacking.
Proof that a big-name cast does not a good film make. There are stand-out segments (Jolie and Phillipe; Connery and Rowlands), but the slow pace drags all the life out of the film and the final pay-off is not worth the wait.