Film Review: Bleeding Heart

Despite Zosia Mamet's fine performance, this drama is ultimately undone by its schematic manipulations.
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The seriousness of its intentions are well on display in Diane Bell's film about a peace-loving yoga instructor who finds her values severely tested after she meets her biological half-sister for the first time. Starring Jessica Biel and Zosia Mamet in the central roles, Bleeding Heart wears its heart on its sleeve in its earnest exploration of how real-world violence can intrude on even the most pacifist ideals. But despite its non-exploitative approach to its subject, the film is too schematic and obvious to have the desired impact.

As the story begins, May (Biel), who runs a New Age-style yoga studio along with her equally spiritual-minded boyfriend Dex (Edi Gathegi), has just tracked down her long-lost sibling. She turns out to be Shiva (Mamet)—the name is but one example of the heavy-handed symbolism on display—who, when asked by May what she does, replies, "I try to make people happy."

Admitting that she achieves this goal by delivering massages, Shiva blanches when May asks her directly if she's a prostitute. "I prefer sex worker," she replies.

Clearly in financial straits, Shiva has an abusive, violent boyfriend, Cody (Joe Anderson), who also serves as her pimp. Although clearly less than thrilled by May's sudden presence in their lives, he becomes mollified by such gestures as when May gives her sister $1,000, no strings attached.

The resulting close friendship between the two women also rankles Dex—the sort of person who says "This is literally karma in action" with a straight face—especially when he finds out what Shiva does for a living, and Martha (Kate Burton), May's adoptive mother, who's not happy to find the pair camped out in her Santa Barbara home.

The clear personality differences between the sisters produce some provocative moments, such as when Shiva introduces May to the pleasures of holding a loaded gun. And in accordance with Chekhov's oft-quoted principle, the film's climactic sequence does indeed feature it being used as a result of Cody's increasingly threatening behavior. But for all the screenplay's careful preparations, the moment feels cheap and unearned.

The performances are mostly uneven, with Biel unable to bring much inner life to the morally conflicted May and the supporting players hamstrung by their stereotypical roles. But Mamet, playing a character whose motives remain tantalizingly ambiguous, reveals a powerful screen presence only heretofore hinted in such previous roles as her naïve Shoshanna on HBO's “Girls.” Harry Hamlin also shows up briefly, with a pungent cameo as one of Shiva's sleazy johns in a scene that produces unintentional laughs.

The filmmaker, whose bio informs us that she earned a Master's degree in Mental Philosophy from Edinburgh University and once ran a yoga studio herself, is clearly aiming at exploring philosophical issues in her sophomore feature. But Bleeding Heart unfortunately falls well short of its goals.--The Hollywood Reporter

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