The Good: Casting
The Bad: Pacing, Characters, Themes are monolithic
The Basics: Men are monolithically horrible, but it's okay when women coerce each other out of their comfort zones . . . that's pretty much the thematic takeaway from Bleeding Heart.
There is something exciting about seeing a new movie with absolutely no preconceptions attached to it. It's one of the reasons I love indie cinema; it's so easy to be surprised by the content because usually they are so poorly advertised that they can be pretty much anything when one starts watching them. When I found a new indie film featuring Jessica Biel, I was ready to be pleasantly surprised. After all, the last I knew, Biel was an a-lister who could choose her projects and one has to believe that a studio would plug any project she's in. But without studio support, Biel's projects like Bleeding Heart are quietly released, to an audience that is significantly smaller than the mainstream audience that made Biel a household name.
Despite Biel's presence in Bleeding Heart, it is easy to see why the film did not get the support of a mainstream studio with capital to spend on things like advertising. Bleeding Heart is terrible. Bleeding Heart is terrible in the way that virtually every Lifetime melodrama is terrible; the themes overwhelm the characters and the result is an inorganically-told story or one where it is impossible to empathize with any of the characters.
Opening with May writing about how her perfect life, four days ago, was not, the story of May flashes back to May teaching Yoga. She preaches a nonviolent lifestyle that is based in living every moment at peace. May goes searching for Susan, a woman she is keen to meet. May suspects that Susan is her half-sister and she approaches her at the address given to her by a private investigator. Susan agrees to meet May at a bar around the corner and she confirms what May suspects. The two had the same mother, but May never saw her and Susan confirms that she has since died. Susan asks May to call her Shiva, the name her mother gave her and after a brief meeting, they part ways but indicate a desire to see one another again.
Later, Shiva calls May and May goes out to meet Shiva and her "boyfriend" Cody. When Shiva asks May to get her out of there, Cody becomes violent, to the point of beating up an intervening bystander. But May gets Shiva away from Cody and they decide to go away for a night. Before leaving town, they swing by Shiva's place where Shiva shows off Cody's loaded gun. When the pair gets to May's mother's house, she confirms that Shiva is actually a sex worker, but Shiva claims she does not need to be saved. Soon, though, May doubts Shiva has what it takes to stand up to Cody and she intervenes.
Bleeding Heart has one truly redeeming moment. In a conversation between May and Shiva, May correctly identifies how people get trapped in dialectics - that Shiva has more choices than the ones Cody wants Shiva to think she has. It's broad philosophical thinking like that which is missing from the rest of Bleeding Heart.
May opens the film claiming that her life is not nearly as perfect as it might seem, but the act of stating that makes it seem like she is not in control of her life . . . which is very much not the case. May is financially well-off enough that she wants for nothing and her business as a Yoga instructor is growing. She is at a place where she and Dex, her boyfriend, can legitimately disagree about whether or not to sell her classic car to raise capital for the business. After seeing May's mother's house, it's virtually impossible to believe that May would even need to consider selling the car. Her mother is loaded and supportive, so it seems like she would have the resources and will to help her adopted daughter out with something like following her dreams in a way that does not require her to mortgage the things that are emotionally important to her. Bleeding Heart does not even peripherally address that idea.
The failure to address is one of the serious problems with Bleeding Heart, a film where the protagonist is supposed to be likable or interesting, but fails to be. Part of the failure of the protagonist comes from how writer-director Diane Bell characterizes the rest of the characters. From his first scene Dex is characterized as a man more controlling than interesting and that helps establish a tired paradigm. Like most Lifetime network movies, women are characterized as "good" more by being surrounded by men who are assholes than by any innate character traits. Dex is fairly reasonable for most of the film, despite pressuring May to sell her car to raise advertising money for the business. Dex tries to look out for May and for their shared space and goals. He comes across as pushy and demanding more because of how the film is structured than by his actual character traits.
To accept that Dex is a bad guy in the relationship, one has to treat May like she is - at the very least - honest in the relationship. May does not articulately and forthrightly communicate with Dex or her mother. And, for all her claims of wanting to live nonviolently, she acts as a witness to violence while multiple people, including her sister, are violently assaulted. Cody is characterized entirely as a bad guy by his violent actions, but at a key scene an hour into the movie, he becomes more honest and direct than May has been in the entire preceding film.
So, like a Lifetime Original Movie, the takeaway is that men are characterized as jerks for trying to get women to do things they don't necessarily want (like Dex pressuring May to sell her classic car), but it is challenging growth for women to push each other in the same way (Shiva tells May flat-out that she doesn't want to go out of town and that it will annoy Cody and she says it in a way that makes it clear that the more desirable option for her is to stay with Cody). Sure, it's easy to watch Bleeding Heart and root for Shiva to leave Cody, but just because he's an abusive, controlling ass doesn't make May a better character just because she wants to rescue her sister from him.
The performances in Bleeding Heart are adequate for the script. Jessica Biel does fine as May, though the character is entirely inconsistent. Biel makes it through the confrontation scene with Shiva's john without breaking, which is an accomplishment of performance. Zosia Mamet plays Shiva in a way that clearly differentiates her from the naive character she plays on Girls (season one reviewed here!) and Joe Anderson adequately portrays a monolithic male thug. Edi Gathegi plays Dex with the most realism of any of the characters in the film and he steals the scenes he is in.
Unfortunately, it is nowhere near enough to save Bleeding Heart. The film transitions from boring to almost entirely unwatchable. It might speak to an audience of faux-feminists (the stereotypical sect that believes only women can empower one another and that all men are garbage, as opposed to true feminists who fight for gender equality), but even that demographic can get such entertainment for less than the cost of watching Bleeding Heart.
For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Hotel Transylvania 2
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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