|Middling, but Asia stretches her legs.|
If there is any such thing as film royalty, then Asia Argento surely belongs in its ranks. Not the snobby, upper levels with the likes of Sophia Coppola or Nick Cassavetes, but the grittier, “cool kid” level. The offspring of Italian horror legend Dario Argento and some beautiful model, Asia Argento has just recently come into her own as acting and directing presence. She has been appearing in European television and low budget horror films for some time, but her turn in Romero’s Land of the Dead and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things mark the beginning of what will most likely become her trademark style.
With Heart, Argento splits her time between acting and directing. This is a tall order for anyone. The film is based on the work of JT LeRoy and is suppose to be a biographical account of his tortured and turbulent youth. In reality JT LeRoy is a concoction of a New England couple hoping that the gimmick of a sexually confused white trash novelist would propel them into wealth. It worked, for a while. From scenes of sexual abuse and maternal abandonment Argento conveys the sickly feel of the novels and manages to coax bewilderment out of her youngest actor, Jimmy Bennett as Jeremiah. While her direction is adequate she brings a Gummo like quality to the role of Jeremiah’s reluctant mother Sarah. For someone who grew up in wealth, even wealth generated from Dario Argento’s giallo fantasies, it must be hard to channel someone like Sarah. Her struggle is evident as Sarah seems more like a Jerry Springer guest than the real deal. Perhaps Argento had too much to deal with and her acting suffered. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it isn’t a strong performance by any standard.
Argento has said that at the time of filming she did not know that JT LeRoy was a hoax. Looking back it’s hard to imagine that people really did believe in this extreme version of a Maury episode that that was passed off as LeRoy’s back-story. This unreal quality is present in the film. The abusive family, the magnitude of maternal apathy, it never connects. It feels like a child’s fairy tale. Albeit a ferocious one. At times the film is seen completely through the eyes of Jeremiah. This brings to mind Terry Gilliam’s recent film about a child coping with a nightmarish life, Tideland. In that film though, the fairy tale elements are exaggerated and given life. Argento allows no such escape for her tiny protagonist. He is trapped in the real world, and not his head like Gilliam’s Jeliza-Rose.
The film begins to fall apart with the introduction of Peter Fonda as the bible thumping grandpa monster. By this time Jimmy Bennett has been replaced with twins Dylan and Cole Spouse whose Disney Channel looks cannot be overcome. By the time Argento reappears it’s too late, and movie drags through its last third without the emotional punch that it began with.
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things makes attempts to be a children’s horror fable about lost youth, and the worst family imaginable. The weight of the JT LeRoy legend, child actors, and Argento’s double duty, eventually become too much and by the middle the film is off the rails. By no means a disaster, Heart is a mediocre offering at best. There are glimpses of the passion Asia Argento put into the project, and some decent scenes that showcase her talent. This may not be the artistic statement its director was hoping for, but its evidence that it is only a matter of time before she produces such a work.
|Name||The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things|
|US Release||Jan. 19, 2005|
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