Expanding the boundaries of marriage does nothing to change its overall success rate, if docu "Three of Hearts" serves as evidence. Wide fest play is assured, though Toronto pickup by ThinkFilm will require careful marketing to make a theatrical dent.

Expanding the boundaries of marriage does nothing to change its overall success rate, if docu “Three of Hearts” serves as evidence. Docu portrait of a dedicated live-in threesome between two bisexual men and a hetero woman, shot over eight years’ course, at first seems like a pleasantly pat piece of verite advocacy for convention-breaking unions. But it gets really interesting once said relationship unexpectedly dissolves in ugly fashion, offering real-life voyeuristic appeal a la “Capturing the Friedmans.” Wide fest play is assured, though Toronto pickup by ThinkFilm will require careful marketing to make a theatrical dent.

The hyperactive, too-eager-to-please product of a difficult background (his father was a Mafia hitman), Sam Cagnina fell in love with 19-year-old Steven Margolin when they were college students. While committed to one another, both felt open to accepting a woman as third side of a menage. After a couple of failed “auditions,” Sam’s co-worker Samantha Singh proved the perfect fit.

Or so it seems in docu’s early progress, which focuses on the trio’s attempt to get pregnant several years later. Their separate parents are variably but fairly supportive. Trio are successful financially, with Samantha the office manager, Sam the massage therapist and Steven a resident chiropractor at a Manhattan wellness center.Samantha does get pregnant, with all the typical expectant-parent anxiety climaxing in a joyous at-home delivery. Yet the arrival of baby also triggers dynamic shifts. Samantha becomes a stay-at-home mom — not her dream profession; the boys stress out as their newly expanded business proves draining. Al three adults go into (separate) therapy. Emotional fallout proves surprising.

Pic keeps skipping forward by months and years, until we’re faced with a rather shocking defection (after the birth of a second infant) by the party who seemed least likely to jump ship. This leads to some ill feelings and gruesome mediation procedures, as well as revised attitudes from all regarding their 13-year cohabitation.

Novelty of the domestic arrangement soon becomes less interesting than the basic emotional pull of eavesdropping on any relationship closely over a long term. While agreeable trio appear easy to understand in the early going, the last lap’s train wreck suggests they all had issues they weren’t sharing with the camera or each other.

Docu producer Susan Kaplan’s (“Small Wonders”) first feature as director is tightly told, with a production sheen that’s above-average for fly-on-the-wall documentary.

Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family

Production

A ThinkFilm release of a Hibiscus Films production in association with Bravo and Cactus Three. Produced by Susan Kaplan, Sarie Horowitz. Executive producer, David Friedson. Directed by Susan Kaplan.

Crew

Camera (color, HDcam), Sarah Cawley; editor, Toby Shimin; music, Ross Levinson; music supervisor, Brooke Wentz; sound, Judy Karp. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Real to Reel), Sept. 10, 2004. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Sam Cagnina, Steven Margolin, Samantha Singh.
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