Digital Review – Behold My Heart (2018)

Nobody knows what’s round the corner, and the past few weeks have been a sharp reminder. Yet it’s not so long ago that we were putting that truth firmly in the back of our minds and just getting on with our lives. The family in Behold My Heart are just the same and belong to those pre-Coronavirus days, which makes the film a potentially tricky watch. Storing it up for future viewing might be the best move, but it shouldn’t be tucked away for ever.

It’s not a bundle of laughs, nor is it intended to be. Actor Joshua Leonard’s sophomore feature as writer/director focuses on an easy going father, career minded mother and sensitive teenage son who have a good life together. It’s not all plain sailing, but they make a warm, caring family and the parents love each other deeply. It’s all shattered by one tragic incident, a car park scuffle that turns into something more and has a profound impact on the relationship between the mother, Margaret (Marisa Tomei) and son Marcus (Charlie Plummer), driving a wedge between them.

While it’s not a film that attempts to take a startlingly different approach to its subject, it has an emotional intelligence, sometimes eschewing storyline for character development. This means that, at times, it seems to be going nowhere: in a narrative sense, that may be so, but this is a story all about the impact of trauma on two of its characters, how they deal with it, how it changes them as people and their hitherto close relationship. And that also means some unexpected behaviour, Margaret’s talent for sculpture using a chainsaw being perhaps the most oddball.

The tone is, inevitably, sombre and, with little or no relief from it, the film is heavy going. It’s not helped by the director’s decision to break up the narrative into chapters, complete with both numbers and names which signpost what’s to come. Whether the fact that they all begin with the letter I – “Initiation”, “Inertia”, “Isolation” and the like – is coincidental or not is hard to work out, but what’s clear is that they break up the flow and, worse still, are irritatingly unnecessary. It’s as if Leonard isn’t confident that his episodes connect. If that’s the case, he should have more faith, because they do and, in a film that comes in at just under 90 minutes, it’s brisk enough not to need them.

The emphasis on emotions and relationships make the choice of cast is critical. Tomei gives a strong performance as the mother, compellingly battling against alcoholism and trying to find a way back into her son’s life, while Plummer is equally strong: at times, he seems the more adult of the two but ultimately is simply just a teenager trying to cope with something he doesn’t understand. Justified fans may, however, may feel short changed by Timothy Olyphant’s comparatively fleeting appearances, even though his scenes with Tomei have a honest warmth about them.

Behold My Heart is no ground breaker, nor does it set out to be, but thanks to the strengths of its lead players and an intelligent script, it’s a compassionate if downbeat watch. Whether you watch it now or sometime in the future is entirely up to you.

★★ 1/2

Drama | Cert: 15 | Blue Finch Film Releasing | Digital, 6 April 2020 | Dir. Joshua Leonard | Marisa Tomei, Timothy Olyphant, Charlie Plummer, Emily Robinson