Beta: Heartbreakers (1984)

February 15, 2016 | By

Heartbreakers_Beta_cvr_sFilm:  Very Good

Transfer:  Good

Extras: n/a

Label: Vestron Video

Region: NTSC

Released:  1984

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: A long-standing friendship between two womanizers is threatened by career crises and a sultry French seductress.

Special Features:  n/a





First: The Look

Although not emotionally deep with dark dramatic moments for its characters, Bobby Roth’s drama of two competitive, womanizing best buddies taking baby steps towards transitioning into adulthood – wanting romance instead of easy sex, yearning for long-term relationships instead of egotistical conquests – manages to transcend the conventional plotting through the personalities of its cast, and a peculiar sense of humour that celebrates absurd twists of fate.

Before becoming a prolific TV director (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Revenge, Grey’s Anatomy) Roth began as a feature film writer-director, with Heartbreakers originally distributed theatrically by Orion. That same year, he also scored his first directorial job on TV with an episode of the Michael Mann-produced series Miami Vice (“Give a Little, Take a Little”), and it’s pretty easy to see aspects of the Vice house style being incorporated into Heartbreakers (even the credits make use of the era’s obsession with thin Arial fonts), but with a more selective colour palette.

The bachelor pad of rich boy Eli (Nick Mancuso) is industrial moderne – a stack of steel, glass, and concrete white boxes overlooking pretty Los Angeles – and as the managing CEO of a women’s sportswear wholesaler, Eli makes sure he’s always wearing suits that are likely the equivalent of a few months rent of best friend Blue (Peter Coyote), who lives a cliched life in an industrial warehouse loft that also has a view of the city, but looking upwards from treeless pit within the valley.

In both homes, white walls and surfaces fills up the background, with colour coming from clothes, furniture, or art hangings and oddball objects, and this visual veneer is augmented by an electronic score by Tangerine Dream, then at their most productive state, scoring a variety of genres but having made their breakthrough a few years earlier with Miann’s Thief (1981).

Roth was extremely fortuitous in getting cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Color of Money, The Departed), and both seemed to be extra careful in adopting the chic Vice look, aiming for softer pastel colours and off-whites; and minimizing clothes to cleaner, simpler designs, making the film much less dated than Mann’s TV series, and still quite pleasing to the eye.

Ballhaus’ patented gliding camera resonates throughout the film, as well as his fine sense of composition which is surprisingly less affected by the existing full screen home video transfers (such as the Betamax tape used for this review). The film’s cinematography, lighting, colours, décor, and mono soundtrack (which includes some period songs, such as Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefirld”) make up an unusually beautifully produced film, and a deliberately refined attempt to match the era’s look with the work that struggling artist Blue creates over the course of Roth’s drama.


Second: Naughty Boys

Reportedly inspired by fetish / pinup painter Robert Blue, Roth’s filmic incarnation similarly draws erotic fetish portraits of assorted alluring poses which have minimized his efforts to become accepted by noted critics and connoisseurs, and the works Coyote creates were painted by the real Blue, some borrowed from private collections.

The core drama focuses on Blue’s attempts to ‘get serious’ about his art, pounding the pavement and assembling enough new works to fill up his first show in 4 years. His long-term relationship with Cyd (Kathryn Harrold) disintegrates, and she quickly shacks up with rival abstract painter King (Barney Miller’s Max Gail). Woven into Blue’s messy romantic life is Eli, who shares a prior history with Cyd, and now finds his own fixation, pretty art gallery assistant / dancer Liliane (Carole Laure) caught in Blue’s headlights.

The men have ‘shared’ other women during their epic friendship, and naturally one particular fling will seed a potential dissolution, which forces both boys to confront their juvenile behaviour, and grow up.

While sex is treated with humour and moments of candor (with strategic object placement to obfuscate certain private parts to appease the MPAA), the women are never developed beyond the classically obvious, like the frustrated lover (Cyd); the mysterious foreign beauty (Liliane) who is professionally dressed during the day, but apparently spends her nights in aerobics classes and practicing aerobics at the closed gallery. Cyd remains a third wheel, while Liliane has neither a past nor a future with either man, and exists to tease (if not as pliable Danskin-clad décor) instead of developing into a memorable character.

Blue and Eli have an amusing near-threesome with model Candy (Carol Wayne, in her final film), and Eli maintains a friendship with aerobics instructor Libby (Falcon Crest and Just Before Dawn’s Jamie Rose) in spite of an aborted (and ridiculous) soiree, making Heartbreakers more provocative than expected, but still fixed to the perspective of two emotionally immature men.

The finale, Blue’s big confession & breakdown outside of their regular diner hangout, and the pair’s realization they’re no longer twentysomething studs all happens fast before the End Credit scroll, but as friends, the men are seemingly closer than when the film started, having confessed seething jealousies and fears with almost juvenile angst.

In the final wide shot with Eli and Blue’s cars parked in parallel but facing opposite directions, Roth suggests the friends may go in separate directions – there’s an ongoing motif of the pair splitting and walking in opposing directions after a game of squash, lunch, or coffee – but at the very end each has a new career path to consider: Eli taking over a company wholeheartedly after his father’s death, and Blue ready to start a new series after having expunged his most tormented demons on canvas and earning a substantive income.

Blue’s creative and financial success happens somewhat gradually, but it still feels too neat in Roth’s narrative, as old associates and contacts give him the perfect chance that helps him focus and create the magnetic show that restores his reputation and sells every painting.

It’s the real art by Robert Blue – seeing each striking, commercially rendered piece ‘created,’ finalized, and showcased during the narrative – that makes the film an attractive hermetically sealed snapshot of 1984. Roth may not have intended to make a pleasing time capsule, but he lucked out in getting the right creative collaborators for this minor classic which unfortunately remains unavailable in a proper DVD or Blu-ray release.

It’s a little film worth revisiting in HD, and ideally with Roth contributing a commentary track which, not unlike Twilight Time’s Baker Boys release (also an Orion release), showcased a struggling writer-director who managed to parlay several indie films into a prolific career.

Heartbreakers’ cast is a fine blend of veteran character actors and emerging stars, plus the unique pairing of Mancuso and Laure, both of whom had co-starred in the CanCon classic Maria Chapdelaine (1983). Laure had appeared in several international-styled art / cult films (Sweet Movie, Fantastica), whereas Mancuso had roles in several Canadian and U.S. films and TV productions, notably the cult classics Nightwing (1979), Death Ship (1980), and the Vice-styled TV series Stingray (1986-1987) and cult mini-series Wild Palms (1993).

Coyote would play a more victimized character in Roman Polanski’s twisted psycho-sexual black comedy Bitter Moon (1992), and reunite with Roth on the underrated corruption drama The Man Inside (1990), which co-starred Jurgen Prochnow in one of his last memorable dramatic roles. Roth would also engage Tangerine Dream to score Man Inside and his TV movie Dead Solid Perfect (1988), co-starring Kathryn Harrold.

Roth’s feature films include Independence Day (1976), The Boss’s Son (1978), Circle of Power (1981), Heartbreakers (1984), The Man Inside (1990), Amanda (1996), Jack the Dog (2001), Manhood (2003), and Berkeley (2005).

Also available: bonus short video (see Editor’s Blog or go directly to Vimeo and YouTube).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  — Soundtrack CD Review —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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