New York

“One From The Heart”

One from the Heart, a title laced with ironies (half of them unintentional), is Francis Coppola’s overwrought valentine to Joe Average and the Missus. A dollop of glum Capra-corn served with the gooey hues and would-be fizz of an early ’50s M-G-M production number, the film is an Amarcord–like studio confection, reportedly directed from afar via video hookup. Coppola’s primary command, as a photographer of my acquaintance remarked, was likely “Lights! Camera! Lights!”—a not altogether inappropriate strategy for a movie meant to evoke downtown Las Vegas on the Fourth of July.

Las Vegas—a climate-controlled environment in which retired Rotarians from deepest Indiana can frolic and gamble with Samoan abandon to the assembly-line clatter of a thousand slot machines—embodies American notions of freedom, grandeur, and manifest destiny with an invigorating, hallucinatory tawdriness. The place has been remarkably underutilized by American filmmakers; Vegas is already a movie set, and Coppola’s ploy of miniaturizing its landmarks on a Hollywood sound stage inverts the instructive megalomania that so profitably allowed him to refight the Vietnam War in the Philippines for Apocalypse Now. A maestro who does his best conducting (the Cuban Revolution in The Godfather II, the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now) with a sledgehammer, Coppola needs room to flail. In One from the Heart the effects stack up like plastic chips on a casino roulette table.

The yearning for “something better” which infused the dreamy clutter of Jonathan Demme’s Vegas-set Melvin and Howard is here flamboyantly telegraphed. (Coppola’s models are surely the fantastic signs that soar above the Strip like neon minarets.) The film’s hero —a paunchy, post-Brando lunk (Frederic Forrest)—owns the Reality Wrecking Company; his sylphlike, chinless ladyfriend (Teri Garr) works for the Paradise Travel Agency. From the stucco bungalow where they live, the lights of Glitter Gulch can be seen glowing down the street like some baleful, radioactive Emerald City of Oz. The message too, incidentally, is the same as that of the Judy Garland tearjerker: why should Forrest and Garr venture away from home? Their place is lit like Caesars Palace, anyway—it’s a live-in “mood ring,” shifting from kryptonite green to bilious orange according to the temperature of their respective libidos.

The film’s plot, which could have been lifted from an episode of The Honeymooners, has the couple quarrel on their anniversary and go out for separate nights on the town. Elaborate scrim shots and superimpositions present Forrest and Garr together on the screen even in their separate flings. Each beds down with a sensationally exotic creature—the suavely Latin Raul Julia (he undresses to the carioca) and the athletically fey Nastassia Kinski (whose accent oscillates wildly from scene to scene)—before tearfully reconciling, in one of the more depressing “happy endings” in Hollywood history. Coppola keeps Act II, by far the most engaging section of the film, percolating with a cascade of blue Disneydust, a snazzy tango, and the sort of technological wizardry (Kinski doing a back-arching slither in an outsized neon champagne glass or appearing to Forrest in the monstrous dimensions of the djinn from The Thief of Bagdad) that a gadget-oriented avant-garde filmmaker like Pat O’Neill produces in his basement for a fraction of the cost. Meanwhile a succession of growling, bloozy duets by a mannered pair of offscreen saloon singers comments on the action, such as it is.

Though unforgivably stingy in its humor, One from the Heart is still less painful than Coppola’s previous “little” films (The Rain People, The Conversation). In fact, there is a real possibility that the movie’s drugstore lime-and lavender color schemes, aggressively banal dialogue, slightly discombobulated performances, and techno-joyless frenzies may take on another quality altogether when repackaged for home-video consumption.

J. Hoberman