By Megan Wadding, February 2017 Issue. Back to Echo’s Desperado 2017 coverage.
In her feature directorial debut, Heartland, Maura Anderson (producer of Winter’s Bone, Would You Rather) introduces a trio of strong female leads in a complex storyline that’s about more than merely sexual identity.
In the immediate aftermath of her partner’s death, Lauren (Velinda Godfrey) finds herself jobless and evicted in their small Oklahoma town. With nowhere left to turn, the young artist moves in with her conservative mother, Crystal (Beth Grant), who busies herself with scrapbooking and praying Lauren will live a straight life now that her partner has passed.
Shortly thereafter, Lauren’s uptight, business-driven brother, Justin (Aaron Leddick), and his self-help obsessed Californian fiancée, Carrie (Laura Spencer), also come to stay as they attempt to launch a local branch of the Napa Valley winery that belongs to Carrie’s family. Subsequently, Justin offers Lauren the job of designing wine labels, more out of pity than actual need.
While we know Lauren is deeply mourning, she only shows her emotions after a few drinks. Meanwhile, Carrie is a fish out of water in the small Oklahoma town, but she’s making an effort to learn about the family and also heed their advice ahead of her and Justin’s upcoming nuptials.
Both women seem to be flailing in their respective lives, trying hard to hold it all together. Lauren seems stuck, broken-hearted and desperate for some kind of escape. Carrie seems young, a bit immature and longing to find her calling in life.
So, when a meeting takes Justin back to California, Carrie and Lauren get to know each other over a few drinks – which ends in an unprotested kiss. Both women chalk it up to a drunken encounter and try to ignore it.
Then, after a party, the women find themselves in the back of a friend’s pickup and a make out session ensues. Neither woman seems to want to address the attraction, but they allow it to build, without any regard for Justin.
When a tornado unexpectedly rolls through town, the terrified women hunker down together in the house. As they lie next to each other in the dark, a steamy sexual encounter is followed by an emotional moment from Lauren (which we assume is a result of her first encounter with a women since the passing of her partner). Carrie comforts her, but remains emotion and guilt free.
Upon Justin’s return, Carrie realizes the magnitude of her actions and goes to Lauren’s room to tell her that it was all a mistake and it should remain a secret. This leads to an unexpected series of events and an abrupt conclusion to the story.
Written by Velinda Godfrey and Todd Waring, Heartland offers an excellent storyline (reminiscent of the Swedish lesbian film Kiss Me), with a stellar cast whose emotions seem genuine and heartfelt. The only downside of having a great storyline is that invested viewers want to see it play out, which doesn’t happen here, as the movie ends right as the climax occurs. The conclusion is abrupt and the story is left largely unresolved.
Cinematographer Michael Dallatorre’s scenery shots of the Oklahoma locale do a beautiful job of filling any voids in dialogue, while underscoring to the desperation that Lauren’s feeling and the culture shock that’s inevitable for Carrie.
Ultimately, Heartland is a good example of “gay incidentalism.” Yet, with such thorough character development viewers are almost destined to be left longing for an attempt at resolving all or part of the conflict that drove the entire story – if even just one more scene.
Heartland screens at 4 p.m. Jan. 29. For more information, visit desperadofilmfestival.com/event/heartland.