A game and sensitive attempt to recount the destructive dynamics of a banal but ill-advised extramarital affair among late-'80s yuppies, "Into My Heart" is so understated as to sometimes lack a pulse.

A game and sensitive attempt to recount the destructive dynamics of a banal but ill-advised extramarital affair among late-’80s yuppies, “Into My Heart” is so understated as to sometimes lack a pulse. Tale of two well-bred and well-educated best friends and the act of betrayal that undermines four lives is a talky, attractively mounted four-hander that offers quiet rewards in places. Pic unfolds with such spare strokes that marketing, beyond modest marquee value of thesps, may pose a problem. But earnest debut feature by Sean Smith and Anthony Stark is sufficiently appealing to bode well for future efforts.

A prologue told in voiceover by Ben (Rob Morrow) makes it quite clear that in the course of the story something bad happens to his best friend since nursery school, Adam (Jake Weber), an idealistic “golden boy” whose lanky blond charm is enhanced by the eye patch he’s worn most of his life. Film proper then begins “Ten Years Earlier.”

While undergrads at Columbia U., the two friends meet Nina (Claire Forlani) at a student watering hole the week John Belushi died. Nina is Adam’s first love , and it sticks — after a perfect, poetic courtship including long walks and carving their initials into an enduring surface, Adam and Nina are wed. He embarks on a writing career while she attends grad school in NYC.

Ben has a harder time finding a suitable mate. A passionate but unhealthy college relationship — alluded to but never shown — ends with Ben in disarray, confiding in Nina and marveling at how lucky she and Adam are. Ben also confesses to Nina that he didn’t much like her at first because she’s “not his type.”

But that changes with time. After Ben meets and marries fellow Stanford law student Kat (Jayne Brook), and they both get jobs in New York, Ben and Nina embark on an affair. Although neither party could articulate why, Nina seems to chafe slightly at the cozy perfection of her life with Adam, and Ben subconsciously wants to possess by proxy an extra bit of his dearest friend.

Ben is also a glutton for guilt. Adam’s eye patch stems from an accident when the two boys were 7 years old. Adam holds no grudge, but Ben feels responsible on some level.

Diffuse, leisurely and episodic, with narrative ellipses throughout, pic consists of characters in various combinations trading anecdotes, memories and feelings. Broad hints are dropped that Adam has “never been hurt” and “has no emotional scar tissue.” One hour in, pic cycles back to where prologue left off — with a panicked Ben racing to the foot of a forest lookout tower, fearing the worst.

Slim tale relies enormously on screen chemistry, which the leads deliver. But by deliberately concentrating on the results of characters’ actions rather than upon the actions themselves, endeavor runs counter to the heightened storytelling mainstream audiences expect.

Location lensing in Manhattan and the Berkshires reflects the casual, moneyed comfort of the protagonists and throws their emotional upheaval into relief. Relaxed and unobtrusive acoustic score by Michael Small is a nice antidote to the “feel emotion or else!” school of soundtracks.

Into My Heart

Production

A Mars Films release (in France) of a Sweetland Films presentation of a Jean Doumanian production. Produced by Doumanian. Executive producer, J.E. Beaucaire. Co-executive producer, Letty Aronson. Co-producer, Marisa Polvino. Directed, written by Sean Smith, Anthony Stark.

Crew

Camera (color), Michael Barrow; editors, Merril Stern, Robert Reitano; music, Michael Small; production designer, Ford Wheeler; costume designer, Stephanie Maslansky; sound (Dolby), Dan Ferat; assistant directors, John Tyson, John Doby; casting, Sheila Jaffe, Georgianne Walken. Reviewed at Deauville Festival of American Film (Panorama), Sept. 12, 1998. (Also in Venice Film Festival --- Perspectives.) Runningtime: 97 MIN.

With

Ben - Rob Morrow
Nina - Claire Forlani
Adam - Jake Weber
Kat - Jayne Brook
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