Friday, June 7, 1991
CROOKED HEARTS. Based on Robert Boswell's 1987 novel. Music by Mark Isham. Written and directed by Michael Bortman. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifer’s warning "occasional nudity and very coarse language.”
LIFE WITH FATHER ISN'T fun any more.
Come to think of it, Tom Warren (Peter Berg) is not all that keen on his older brother Charley (Vincent D'Onofrio), either.
"My family's crazy," the Tacoma college dropout tells his new girlfriend, stereo-shop sales clerk Marriet Hoffman (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
”Everybody's family is crazy," says Marriet, unimpressed.
Tom, no longer convinced that father knows best, persists in tormenting himself. "You must think it's weird having a party when your house burns down."
"Unlike you, I'm tolerant of weirdness," says Marriet, with an understanding born of experience.
Tom has yet to learn tolerance. All he knows at this point is that Edward Warren (Peter Coyote) has a guilty secret, one that has obsessed Charley for more than nine years and now threatens to tear asunder their once-close family.
Based on Robert Boswell's 1987 novel, Crooked Hearts is a mildly overwrought domestic discord drama. Children of the 1960s, Jill (Cindy Pickett) and Edward Warren seem like really neat parents.
Dad, a high-school teacher, acts less like a paterfamilias than a camp counsellor. He cuts his kids lots of slack, and offers them apparently unconditional love.
So, how come his kids – self-destructive Charley, angst-ridden Tom, rules-compulsive Ask (Noah Wyle) and somnambulistic Cassie (Juliette Lewis) — are "all in love with screwing up?" What is Dad's secret?
Adapted and directed by screenwriter Michael (The Good Mother) Bortman, Crooked Hearts features ordinary people overreacting to relatively unimportant emotional strains.
Love, for much of the movie, is defined as never having to level with your loved ones. Hardly a formula for familial success, it allows minor meddling and low-level deceptions to grow into major personal problems.
Bortman's performers work overtime to convey the troubled state of their various souls, but it's hard to give a damn. Like so many artifacts of the self-indulgent 1980s, his film is much ado about surprisingly little.
Though set in neighbouring Washington State, Crooked Hearts was filmed on location in and around Vancouver.
The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1991. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.
Afterword: We’re all getting older. Performing artists who do it well are a particular delight for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). In 2021, its website ran a profile with the headline “Jennifer Jason Leigh Isn't Afraid of Anything.” That fearlessness may have been a factor in her career-long involvement with independent filmmakers such as Michael Bortman, for whom Crooked Hearts remains his only directorial credit. Leigh, who turns 60 today (February 5), has been in 64 features to date and, as far as I know, isn’t showing any interest in becoming a retired person.
Crooked Hearts was the first of ten theatrical features that she would cross the border to make. In 1994, Leigh found her way to the east coast — Nova Scotia — for director Taylor Hackford’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Dolores Claiborne. LINK <> Montreal stood in for 1920s New York in Alan Rudoph's 1994 celebration of America's inter-war Smart Set, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle LINK <> and for Vermont in director John Maybury’s 2005 time slip fantasy The Jacket, in which Leigh’s co-stars included Adrien Brody, Keira Knightly and Kris Kristofferson. In the summer of 1999, she travelled to Regina, Saskatchewan to co-produce and star in independent director Tamra Davis’s coming-of-age comedy Skipped Parts (2000).
I’m particularly fond of her five visits to Toronto, where all of her performances were in Canadian films, pictures that are independent by definition. It was there that she played one of her best-ever movie roles, video-game designer Allegra Geller in writer-director David Cronenberg’s 1999 sci-fi thriller eXistenZ. More conventional was director Bobby Roth’s Crossed Over, a 2002 psychological drama in which she starred opposite Diane Keaton, playing a death-row inmate sought out by a grieving mother. A movie about moviemaking, writer-director Don McKellar’s 2004 satire Childstar features Leigh as the stage mom of the title character, a brat actor shooting a picture on location in Canada.
In 2019, a generation after the release of eXistenZ, Leigh was again taking direction from a Cronenberg, this time David’s son Brandon. In Possessor, she is in the age-appropriate role of Girder, a retired assassin working as her cyber-tech successor’s handler. The same summer, she lent her talents to Canadian writer-director Mark Raso’s Awake (released in 2021), a science-fiction thriller based on a global insomnia epidemic.
J.J. today: The six feature reviews now posted to Reeling Back include director Uli Edel’s 1989 adaptation of Last Exit to Brooklyn, George Armitage’s crime drama Miami Blues (1990), Michael Bortman’s troubled-family drama Crooked Hearts (1991), Barbet Schroeder’s psychological thriller Single White Female (1992), Alan Rudolph’s biographical drama Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994) and Taylor Hackford’s Stephen King adaptation, Dolores Claiborne (1995).
See also: Jennifer Jason Leigh titles previously available in the archive include director Amy Heckerling’s 1982 ensemble piece Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Ron Howard’s Chicago firefighting adventure Backdraft (1991) and the Coen brothers’ Capraesque The Hudsucker Proxy (1994).