For a film named Heartland, Maureen Anderson’s debut can be pretty critical of the American Midwest. Beth Grant is saddled with the thankless negative stereotype of a traditionalist, homophobic mother, and rural Oklahoma emerges as a painfully claustrophobic religious community.
Yet as the affection embedded in the concept of ‘heartland’ suggests, the film also celebrates the simple country lifestyle, often setting it against the corporate lingo of fish-out-of-water Carrie (Spencer). The more positive attitude is best expressed in cinematographer Michael Dallatorre’s wide yet homely vistas, and in Mark Orton’s understated score.
Alas, the overstretched narrative is less developed than the interesting ambivalence about the Midwest. The connection between the two women builds through contrived and clichéd sexual tension story-beats; they jump into a river in their underwear, fall against each other in the back of a flat-bed truck, and huddle in a confined space during a storm.
Queer and sexual content aside, Heartland often feels akin to a melodramatic TV movie. While it has the best of intentions, at its climax Heartland slips into favouring the arcs and fears of its straight(er) characters over that of grieving protagonist Lauren (Godfrey). This is somewhat remedied by the conclusion, however, when Lauren’s self-enforced emotional isolation comes to an inevitable yet well-played end in a standout scene which subtly suggests backstory the screenplay hints at but never fully explores. If Godfrey had been allowed to fire on all cylinders more often, and shared more scenes with the sidelined Cooper Rowe, Heartland could have been far more powerful.
Heartland makes for a sad and frustrating near miss, with its greater potential as apparent as its flaws. Redrafting and extra takes could have resulted in more nuanced plotting and bolder, more consistent acting. Here’s hoping Anderson and Godfrey regroup and reteam.
CAST: Velinda Godfrey, Beth Grant, Laura Spencer, Cooper Rowe
DIRECTOR: Maura Anderson
WRITERS: Velinda Godfrey, Todd Waring
SYNOPSIS: Torn apart by grief when she loses her girlfriend to cancer and with nowhere else to go after she is kicked out of her apartment, Lauren returns home to rural Oklahoma to live with her homophobic mother. She finds distraction in friendship with her brother’s girlfriend. But as it turns into something more, threatening the very fabric of the only family she has left, can Lauren stop running from her pain and learn how to move on?