‘Secondhand Hearts’ taps into firsthand emotions
Written/directed by: Austin Everett
Starring: Ben Isaacs, Mallory Corinne, Allie Rae Treharne, Jericho Lopez, Rebecca C. Olson, and Ward Wright
“Secondhand Hearts” - “Jaime, maybe we should talk about some things before we go in.” – Ben (Ben Isaacs)
“Okay, is something wrong?” – Jaime (Allie Rae Treharne)
Something is wrong.
Ben just arrived back in the U.S. after a trip to Japan. He is a photographer and traveled to Osaka - and some surrounding areas - to take photos for a calendar, but his trip turned out to be magical. Sure, Ben’s pictures probably turned out fine, but he met a girl, Emily (Mallory Corinne).
Ben – who is in a committed relationship with Jaime – ran into Emily in Japan, spent a few days with her, and it became a life changing event for him. Now, this could be dismissed as a casual fling on the other side of the globe, but Ben and Emily feel a connection, complete with internal churns of butterflies, fireworks and lighting bolts. Now, Ben is about to meet Jaime’s family for the first time over Thanksgiving dinner, and yes, something is wrong. He needs to end his relationship with Jaime, and it comes at the worst possible time.
Writer/director Austin Everett thoughtfully spends his time by offering a compelling drama about a man faced with a thorny decision, but due to newly discovered revelations, Ben’s choice seems impossible. His thorny decision suddenly becomes wrapped in barbed wire and dipped in lemon juice, and Everett and Isaacs effectively communicate Ben’s anxiety and transmit emotional pokes and punctures from the big screen to the audience.
The film’s construction pokes in different settings too, as it regularly volleys from affluent, manicured American suburbia to the woodsy and urban charm of faraway Japan. Everett lays out an intentionally awkward meeting the family assembly with Jaime’s perfectly nice mother (Rebecca C. Olson) and father (Ward Wright). They welcome Ben into their home and provide a warm environment, but Morris’ (Wright) physical presence is a bit intimidating – like he played football or rugby in college - so our young protagonist does feel the need to tread lightly. For the record, anyone who has stayed over at a boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents’ home for the first time certainly knows the pressure of maintaining one’s very best behavior...in order to survive the visit. Due to events - which I will not reveal in this review – raise that pressure on Ben by a factor of oh, I don’t know, 10,000 perhaps?
Ben is emotionally trapped over the course the dinner’s main course. Thankfully, Everett gives the audience regular reprieves from the confines of family civilities by shipping us back to those aforementioned, past experiences in Japan, Ben and Emily’s romance. The film smoothly transitions back and forth through smart editing and writing, as the events between the two time periods feel linked. For example, Ben takes a photo in Morris and Judy’s home, and the action then quickly shifts to Japan, when a group of kids pose with Emily for a picture and yell, “Cheese!” The flashbacks occur many times, and each one has a distinct purpose.
Speaking of purpose, Ben seems to have one during his Osaka trip and credit Isaacs for his character’s almost split personality. Ben is playful, sarcastic, lively, and everything feels right when he is with Emily. His actions speak to us in Japan but also through a chirpy montage accompanied by a beautiful, upbeat tune called “Brandenburg Stomp”, performed by Kishi Bashi. It is the type of song that you’ll immediately search for in iTunes and blast in your living room several times in a row.
Ben and Emily might have previously had their ducks in a row in separate, committed relationships, but they do feel right together and contrast that with Ben’s lethargic, listless spirit, when he is with Jaime. He actually spells this out in a critical conversation in the third act, but we already felt it with every cinematic fiber of our collective-being. If “Secondhand Hearts” spells out a life lesson here, this moviegoer hears it loud and clear. Ben is watching his own mistake-of-a-lifetime play out in slow motion, but he can prevent it at any time by taking an incredibly brave, brutally honest step. The problem is that life is constructing an applecart for Ben, and he leans towards not upsetting it, even though he does not really care for apples.
We do care about these characters though, and Emily does appear in the post-Japan storyline. While Isaacs plays Ben very differently in the two time periods, Corinne smartly plays Emily consistently during and after Japan. Her character does not leave her emotions as wide-open as Ben and plays her cards close to the vest. Perhaps she is thinking of her own self-preservation, but the end result is Ben seems singularly caught in this net, even though Emily has a vital stake in it as well. Credit Treharne and Jericho Lopez too, who offer real surprises when we least expect it, including Lopez’s character’s reluctant heart-to-heart in an unlikely locale.
Well, this particular chance encounter - in an unlikely locale from across the Pacific Ocean – causes many waves and “something wrong” in one suburban home over the holidays, and yes, “Secondhand Hearts” certainly taps into firsthand emotions.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respec