Playing By Heart

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Playing By Heart

Of the six storylines that run through Playing By Heart, a facile Miramaxization of Robert Altman's Short Cuts, Jon Stewart's bungling courtship of chilly theater director Gillian Anderson is by far the most successful, coasting agreeably on their mild star charisma. The other five are either shrill, maudlin, or some hideous combination thereof. They include, in descending order of interest, Sean Connery as a wounded romantic who bickers with wife Gena Rowlands about an old affair; two club-hopping alternateens, the strident Angelina Jolie and the wooden Ryan Phillippe, who find their narcissism neatly compatible; Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Edwards as a couple nearing the end of a passionless tryst; Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr, wasted as a mother and her terminally ill son, respectively; and a scowling Dennis Quaid as an actor who tells conflicting stories about himself to women at bars. Writer-director Willard Carroll's thrice-repeated credo, "Talking about love is like dancing about architecture," suggests that the nature of love is an inscrutable mystery, yet his script draws ruler-straight lines from muddy conflicts to pat resolutions. Set against a massive L.A. backdrop, Playing By Heart covers a broad, multi-generational spectrum of romantic and familial relationships, but Carroll can't resist tying everything together in a shiny red bow. The result is daytime television at its most ambitious, an entire season's worth of flavorless melodrama and placating warmth.