Some oft-told stories have a certain wisdom and intrinsic meaning about them. They only seem to improve with age, gaining new depth, and communicating a greater sense of poignancy and joy with each retelling.
But this isn’t one of them.
It’s the story of Kelli (Krystal Ellsworth), who dropped out of UCLA law school to pursue her passion, hip-hop dance. Unbeknownst to her parents, she’s been financing her terpsichorean pursuits with the loot they gave her for tuition. She split from school, cashed in her chips, got an apartment and has been getting her bad self down with a dance troupe that is auditioning for a big-time gig.
The ’rents show up unexpectedly one day and bust her for her little indiscretion, then haul her shimmying hiney off to India with them. The son of one of dad’s business partners is getting married in Mumbai, so Kelli, mom, dad and sis wing it to the other side of the world for a weeklong visit.
“The ’rents show up unexpectedly, bust her…then haul her shimmying hiney off to India…”
Sometimes, moving a story to an exotic location can make an otherwise unexceptional film feel more exciting. But for all of its pageantry, choreographed dance numbers and splashy photography, Heartbeats has all the qualities of a lackluster after school special — insipid dialog, wafer-thin plot, indifferent acting and a profound love of all things saccharine. No opportunity is missed for a shot of characters locked in a warm embrace in gauzy lighting before a picturesque background. We’re treated to a new manic dance routine at just about every turn, so the film’s got a pulse alright. But it’s also braindead.
As you might suspect, the characters are utterly flat and idealized, as is the thoroughly sanitized image of India the film presents. The story largely takes place inside the walls of an expensive Western-style hotel, and on the rare occasion when the action wanders outdoors and into the streets, we mostly end up at picturesque tourist spots. Only during a brief scene at one character’s apartment do we see living conditions any less sumptuous than your average Sheraton.
“…watching the pageantry, the dance moves, and the costumes, the main points of interest in many Bollywood productions.”
Other than Kelli’s passion for dance, which the film allows her to exercise in a hefty chunk of screen time, the story revolves around her flirtations with Aseem (Amitash Pradhan), whom she meets among the wedding celebrants. This causes some mild friction because Aseem has been dating Deepika (Aneesha Joshi), the sister of the groom to be, and a bit of jealousy rears its ugly head. No worries about any messy emotional meltdowns developing, though. All atomic clouds on the horizon blow over quickly and without consequence, whether it’s Aseem’s DJ friend, who owes money to a bad-ass, or a tough-guy dancer who tries to intimidate Aseem’s crew.
The warmed-over flirtations between Kelli and Aseem, an almost too good to be a true love interest, have been sanded down to remove any splintery surfaces. Their burgeoning romance would fit comfortably into many 12-year-olds’ daydreams.
The dance routines, which are the real attraction here, seem competent enough, and they’re shot under the requisite epileptic seizure-inducing stage lighting that is de rigueur for such performances. Odds are that many who see Heartbeats won’t care much about the plot and characterization, but will instead be watching the pageantry, the dance moves, and the costumes, the main points of interest in many Bollywood productions. So, this tale is unlikely to offend anyone expecting nothing much more than a syrupy soap opera custom made for young teens. See it if you must, but don’t be surprised if your teeth ache afterward.
Heartbeats (2017) Directed by Duane Adler. Written by Duane Adler. Starring: Krystal Ellsworth, Daphne Zuniga, Justin Chon, Paul McGillion, Aneesha Joshi.
3 out of 10