‘Strange Hearts’ aka ‘Roads to Riches’ (2001)

‘Strange Hearts’ a/k/a ‘Roads to Riches’ (2001) I caught this film almost by accident this morning on cable, in just about the last place I’d expect to find it: HBO.

This film is an easy match for anyone who enjoys any of Paul Thomas Anderson’s early films, as it revisits some of the territory of ‘ Hard Eight ‘ and Lodge Kerrigan’s ‘ Claire Dolan ‘. Sorry, no Gwyneth Paltrow-as-a-hooker here, but this film explores a sort of strange, alternate universe at the center of our fickle, ADD American culture. This seemed to me a gritty, IFC -type film, rather than the sort of thing HBO might run, thus my surprise.

The inimitable Robert Forster stars here as a sort of con-man (Jack), living off of the fringes of televised Game Shows and other short cons. He lives in a ‘resident motel’, as he works toward a big payoff scheme, his ‘Rat in a Can’. I won’t describe it here – you’ll just have to see it for yourself.

In any case, this film charts the Forster character’s search for luck – if not a payoff – such that he and the Rose McGowan character (Moira, an ‘exotic’ dancer) can escape L.A. to retire in Mexico.

Into this stalled romance-cum-caper stumbles Henry (Kip Pardue), who seems to have all of the luck that Jack lost, when his career as a child-actor went belly-up. Just let it be said that opportunities open up for Henry, and Jack tries and fails to exploit them.

But the ‘plot’ here, while it is amusing, is not the thing to study – rather, it’s the characters: They’re not wacky, not over-the-top, not for people who’d just as soon be watching ‘Friends’. Rather, these characters are on a voyage to discover their own ‘centers’ rather than try to rig other games and schemes to support themselves.

Definitely worth a look, especially for fans of independent films.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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