In Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982), Hank (Frederic Forrest) and Frannie (Teri Garr) are two working stiffs living in Las Vegas, locked in a relationship from which much of the fun and affection has drained away. After the umpteenth row, Frannie walks out and into the Fourth of July celebrations. Here she meets Ray (Raul Julia), a romantic waiter who woos her with the prospect of escaping her humdrum life. Meanwhile, Hank has made the acquaintance of beautiful circus girl Leila (Natassja Kinski).
The central problem with One from the Heart is that there is very little heart on-screen. The romantic leads are hopelessly miscast. Terri Garr is a fine comedic actress, but she’s just not sexy as Frannie – why Raul Julia’s Ray is taken with her is anybody’s guess. Forrest is similarly miscast as Hank, and between himself and Frannie there is no chemistry.
This was a watershed film for Coppola, but for all the wrong reasons. It effectively bankrupted the director and put paid to his wider ambitions of creating a film studio out of his production company American Zoetrope. Much of the rest of his career was reportedly spent paying off the debts accumulated, which perhaps explains such risible efforts as Jack (1996). Despite all this however, One from the Heart still looks – and sounds – fantastic.
The Oscar-nominated score by Tom Waits lends the film a romantically-seedy atmosphere, and Coppola’s conceit of artificiality – perhaps influenced by Scorsese’s similarly misguided flop New York, New York (1977) – is breathtakingly achieved, with exhilaratingly choreographed street scenes, a hauntingly spacious desert and even an airport with a rebuilt jumbo jet tilting on take off, all recreated in a massive studio space. Its doggedly inventive style puts one in mind of Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and the Lars von Trier’s Dogville (2003).
In the final reckoning, we must account One from the Heart as a magnificent disaster, but it remains worth watching for that magnificence.