If there is anything approaching a narrative arc in No Heart Feelings, it mostly pertains to Mel (Rebecca Kohler), whose break-up with her long-distance boyfriend opens the film. As she goes about her life, pulling in conversations and get-togethers with all her friends, and their mutual friends, we get a view of life for a set of young professionals in Toronto.
Then Lewis (Dustin Parkes) arrives, a friend of a friend, and he and Mel hit it off, progressing quickly from small talk to badminton to bed, before Mel then begins to question what’s going on, considering the likelihood of being in the midst of her rebound phase. As she battles with those concerns, Lewis too tries to figure out where he stands.
Except, that’s not what this film is about. It’s the one narrative line I can pick out that shows some significant, immediate conflict, but it’s a small bit of the film. While Mel is certainly the constant that flows through the group and their exchanges, it’s more about conversations about whatever existential crisis or non-crisis everyone might be going through. Life, love, work, graying pubic hair, art… everything and nothing is wittily discussed, practically all the time.
In many ways, watching this film is like watching a nature documentary. There is the rare narrative thread that pulls from start to finish, but mostly you’re just a floating camera watching seemingly innocuous or meandering conversations. Like being embedded in a colony of twentysomethings in Toronto, researching their behavior.
Conversations seem less like people listening to each other than waiting for their opportunity to say something clever or talk over the other person. In that way, conversations are like mini-performance pieces between tiny audiences that aren’t really paying attention. Many words, little soul. At times this feels like a by-product of an improvisational tone, because it is all a performance, and it feels both natural and unnatural at the same time.
And thus, as an actual audience member watching this film, it’s hard to get too invested in what’s going on. Since many a conversation feels like someone doing their best to deflect connection, and stay surface (or witty), the result is a success of separation. Viewed as some quasi-nature faux-documentary, as mentioned above, this works. Viewed as a story about characters you’re interested in following, not so much.
Which, for me, is the main issue with the film. If this is true to the young professionals of Toronto, and speaks honestly and realistically about that culture, then great, but it’s not my scene. These aren’t characters I’d necessarily want to hang out with, and that translates to an overall lack of enjoyment with the film, since the film is like hanging out with all these people. It just seems like a lot of posturing about growing old, or being lost in life, but realizations and empathetic understandings usually come in the pauses and the silences, and these people seem to never stop talking.
I think there is an audience out there that will see themselves in this film, and it will resonate on a level that I’m missing out on. I think there is a merit to this type of film, and by no means do I feel that every film needs a traditional structure with character growth and the like, but I do think that often those types of more experimental narrative attempts are not going to be for everyone. In this case, while I can appreciate what No Heart Feelings is conveying, the hipster malaise of a group of friends in Toronto, I also wasn’t terribly entertained by it.
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