In a genuflection to the vignette style of Robert Altman, and a tribute to the gloss of Alan Rudolph and Lawrence Kasdan, Playing by Heart has the following going for it: Jon Stewart and Gillian Armstrong and her humongous dog, Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr, Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands and their two dogs, Dennis Quaid and Madeleine Stowe and their dogs, Nastassja Kinski, Anthony Edwards, and, if those attractions aren’t enough, Ryan Phillippe and Angelina Jolie and her one-eyed cat. The standout—the spectacular Jolie. When wearing a scarf to cover her bronzy red hair, she looks like an irradiated Esther Williams, and when she talks—she hardly ever stops talking, whether she’s negotiating for custody of her cat or for a date with Phillippe, or explaining Suddenly, Last Summer, or engaging in self-absorbed chatter on the phone—it’s all capsulation, opinion and surmises, in a vocabulary suggesting an education by Oprah. Her dazzling display of personality is far friendlier than the dazzle she pushes in HBO’s Gia. With metallic blue-greenish hair, Phillippe isn’t in the least swamped by Jolie’s rushes. With Playing by Heart director-writer Willard Carroll does some terrific story juggling by the use of foxy omissions and edits; if you don’t already know the conclusion, it’ll probably come as one of those warm and fuzzy surprises. (Though hints pop up here and there as to how it will all collate.) There’s a background drag queen sendup of Susan Hayward’s big number from Valley of the Dolls, complete with Calder-like mobiles, and an even briefer bit of a dollish blimp doing Neely. This is the best looking L.A. movie since Kasdan’s Grand Canyon, and Vilmos Zsigmond shares the accolades with production designer Missy Stewart and art/set decorators Charles Daboub, Cindy Carr, Mark Poll and Patte Shibata Strong. Kudos to film editor Pietro Scalia. Music by John Barry.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.