Words: Paul Dean
Director: Xavier Dolan // Cast: Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri, Niels Schneider
When 'J'ai Tué Ma Mere'/'I Killed My Mother' came out just over a year ago now, Xavier Dolan impressed not only with an original and engaging debut, but also his ability to perform well as an actor, writer and also director. He takes on all three duties again with his second feature and largely manages to pull it off, though with less style and maturity than before.
'Heartbeats' tells the story of two young friends, one male and one female, who are both suddenly and intensely enamoured with a new rich kid who joins their social circle. Their friendship quickly turns to rivalry as they compete for his attentions and affections, while he remains utterly oblivious to this wedge he’s driving between them. Occasionally, the story is interrupted by a collection of unrelated talking heads who discuss their various experiences of failed relationships and the lessons they have learned.
The relationship dynamic between the two main characters and their ambivalent Adonis is entertaining and sometimes laced with great moments of dry, sour humour, but 'Heartbeats' has a strange quality of immaturity to its characters that makes you wonder just how old they’re supposed to be.
Repeatedly watching them recoil at every perceived slight, or make minor melodramas from the mundane, I started to wonder if perhaps they were supposed to be pre-teens. After a couple of hedonistic party scenes and ridiculous mood swings, I even began to feel I might be watching a French-Canadian feature-length version of 'Skins'.
This is, unfortunately, where the film falls down, because it’s otherwise a well shot and well cast romance that can boast a distinct and original personality. Though it has an irritating over-reliance on slow-motion that drags some scenes on for longer than is necessary, using this device to watch two friends dress up, set out and then square off to a particularly melancholy cover of 'Bang Bang' almost turns the film into a Western where love can leave only one man (or woman) standing.
If you can cope with some childish and slightly overblown characters then this is definitely worth a viewing because, while it's imperfect, its style and its pleasing sense of irony more than make up for its shortcomings.
'Heartbeats' is out on limited release in UK cinemas from today. Cinemas screening the film are listed here.