Sweethearts (1996)

Director: Aleks Horvat
By Marilyn Ferdinand

Since the dawn of cinema, there have been screenwriters who wanted to tell their stories but couldn’t get anyone to back them. These folks form the core of what we now know as the independent film movement. Writer/directors as diverse as Robert Altman, Woody Allen, and Oscar Micheaux have given us some mixed-quality, quirky, but always individual films. In the 1990s and 2000s, however, the independent film movement started turning out a fair number of writer/directors whose films were, well, kind of all the same. Some had been to film school, so they knew how to make a good-looking film, even on a budget, and they had good enough secondary and post-secondary educations to write well. Quentin Tarantino is, perhaps, the god of this brand of independent filmmaker, because he turned the screenplay into the star.

Invariably, such films like to dwell on fraught modern relationships (even Tarantino’s), and many of these films are very watchable because they engage the literate cinephile’s mind and appreciation for the well-turned phrase. They also attract interesting talent, who like having some great lines to interpret. But after viewing one of these works, I always seem to find myself sitting for a couple of minutes in a short, dumbfounded silence, then drawling, “Wellllll,” and realizing I have nothing more to say. With a few of these films, I also have the urge to take a hot, cleansing shower. Dylan Kidd’s 2002 movie Roger Dodger had this effect on me, though I admit I still remember it for a very brief, but touching cameo by Showgirls pariah Elizabeth Berkley.

Sweethearts is the love child of Aleks Horvat, who clearly thought that writing about his (I’d lay money that the movie is semiautobiographical) misadventures in dating using the personals column would strike a chord with a young, arthouse audience. I think he was right, of course. Dating seemed to be going the way of the analog camera in the late 90s, and an epidemic of socially retarded singles made the personals seem like the only option for “singletons”. To up the interest ante, Horvat places the opening credits over a personals column upon which an unseen woman is circling and crossing out ads, while a cacophony of voice messages of men making their case sounds in the background. The credits end with the unseen woman loading a gun and laying it across the red-marked newspaper. OK, you got my attention, Aleks.

Cut to Arliss (Mitch Rouse) who is getting ready for a date with a woman who responded to his ad. He’s nervous and cuts his neck shaving. This, he feels, bodes ill for the rendezvous. He always gets involved with nut jobs. He’s afraid that’s the only kind of woman he will ever attract. We watch him go into a coffeehouse named Asylum—of course, it means the crazy place, not the place of refuge. He looks around the room for someone who matches the description the woman gave him during their brief phone chat. He goes to the barista (Margaret Cho) to order a cappuccino. “Double or single?” she asks and then launches into how she can tell a double- from a single-shot guy in pure Cho shtick. Arliss manages to insult her by calling her Chinese. “Oh, now I look Chinese?” The whole scene is quirky, in a bad way.

Eventually, Arliss settles into the dark recesses of Asylum. A dark-haired woman (Janeane Garofalo) dressed in black sits at the next table. She asks him who he’s waiting for. Someone named Jasmine. He thinks she’ll be wearing a flowered peasant-type dress. They talk a bit more, and then a very large woman in just such a dress comes in and takes a seat near them. Arliss freaks, and the woman jumps all over him for demanding a slender woman when this overweight lady looks completely wonderful to her. He impulsively kisses the woman to demonstrate that they are together. The woman invites the larger one over to the table. Arliss blubbers incoherently until her equally large boyfriend shows up to whisk her away for a lovely evening. Very soon, Arliss discovers the woman he has been sitting with is Jasmine.

The two embark on what becomes an all-night date at the coffeehouse filled with quirks (Arliss keeps walking in on their waiter [Bobcat Goldthwaite] “exploring his sexual possibilities” with a porn magazine), a revelation of Jasmine’s bipolar manic-depression, a gunshot, and lots and lots more coffee. Arliss, of course, falls for another crazy woman who has behaved in a completely inappropriate way in drawing him into an impossible situation because she didn’t want to spend her birthday alone.

Always an extremely appealing and thoughtful actress, Janeane Garofalo is superb in this film—funny, intelligent, poignant, and resolute. Rouse keeps up with her, but ends up coming off as fairly self-pitying, probably a result of the way the part was written and directed. After the first scene, Cho drops her Asian routine and becomes a fairly normal barista. Goldthwaite’s character adds nothing to the show, but I suppose Cho needed a foil at certain moments so that we aren’t completely immersed in this wallowfest. I was very turned off by the way Jasmine’s predicament was handled, but Garofalo almost pulls it out in the way she assures Arliss that he can’t handle her illness because she’s been trying for 30 years and can’t. The line reading is so true for her character, even as her selfish use of Arliss seems false. But don’t expect much more. You know what liars folks from the personals are! l

  • SweetIdiot spoke:
    10th/08/2007 to 5:04 am

    any idea where I can get the script from?

  • Ferdy spoke:
    10th/08/2007 to 8:17 am

    I searched for this script, but couldn’t find it. Here is a good resource for other scripts:

  • Gerald spoke:
    27th/03/2008 to 2:53 pm

    is this a play or only a movie? and did anyone ever find the script?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    27th/03/2008 to 3:20 pm

    As far as I know, it is only a movie and nobody has found the script.

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