Sunday, May 20, 2012

An Affair Of The Heart [film review]

Written for Toronto Screen Shots
For most, Rick Springfield is a one-hit wonder 80s footnote, but as An Affair Of The Heart reveals, he still has a surprisingly loyal following. Director Sylvia Caminer eschews the conventional rock doc biographical format and instead makes Springfield's fan base (known as "Rickaholics") her film's focus. His audience appears to consist mostly of middle-aged women, although we do hear from the occasional male fan, including one who proudly says he's seen Springfield over 200 times. As a music junkie myself, I'm more than familiar with the strangeness and complexities of intense fandom, especially when it comes to a musical artist that doesn't garner much respect. I mean, I was a hardcore KISS fan for almost three decades (the objects of my musical obsession have since evolved to Bruce Springsteen and U2). Surprisingly, An Affair Of The Heart failed to win me over, despite my close connection to the film's subject matter.
Amongst the many fans interviewed by Caminer are a handful that get a more in-depth exploration. Two of the most prominent from that group are a pair of ladies who formed a close friendship through their mutual fandom and make numerous trips yearly to attend Springfield's concerts, to varying degrees of exasperation from their husbands. One of the spouses supports that his wife derives so much enjoyment from Springfield, while also grumbling, "She wakes up and it's 'Rick, Rick, Rick' until she goes to bed". The other husband, who gave up a music career to become a surgeon, comes across as extremely jealous over his wife's rabid Springfield devotion, to the point where his petulant and dickish attitude make it too difficult to feel any sympathy towards him. There's also the young Illinois teenager who Springfield first met as a baby, with the pair maintaining a friendship over the years. Although this storyline illustrates the close connection the musician has with his fans, it felt somewhat overlong. Not to knock the kid, but by the time he gets up on stage to hammily play guitar at a Springfield show, I was long past ready for Caminer to put his story to bed. We also meet a couple who married after meeting online and discovering they were both big fans, as well as a minister who used Springfield's music to help her through a traumatic experience. Most affecting are the interview segments with Laurie Bennett, who was greatly comforted by Springfield's music throughout and following the experiences of multiple heart surgeries as a young girl. Bennett's testimonials are powerful and best represent one of the film's goals of portraying the profound effect that music can have on people's lives.
One reason I failed to engage with An Affair Of the Heart is because most of Springfield's music struck me as utterly forgettable. "Jessie's Girl"? Sure, it's pretty catchy and you can see why it was a hit, but nearly every other song heard through the film's abundant amount of live clips left absolutely no impression, when they weren't making me cringe (a shameless "Jessie's Girl" clone called "What's Victoria's Secret?" is the worst offender). Obviously, one of the biggest draws to this film for non-Rickaholics is its curiosity factor - how does a man mostly perceived as being both musically lightweight and irrelevant inspire such passion for his art? I know that was my motivating factor in viewing the doc (to be clear, Caminer is, in fact, a Springfield fan). The skeptic's voice is represented fairly effectively in the interviews with non-fans vacationing on the same ship as attendees participating in the Rick Springfield And Friends Cruise event. Caminer's conversations with Springfield show him to be a nice enough guy who seems genuinely grateful for the fan support and the opportunity to play music for a living. Looking remarkably well-preserved at 62, Springfield strives to put on a dynamic live show, as evidenced by one of the film's better scenes that shows him gutsily winning over a huge audience at the Swedish Rock Festival, which features decidedly heavier acts like Aerosmith and Guns N' Roses as headliners. For every plus the film delivers, however, there's more negatives, such as the end portion that turns the focus to Springfield. His basic biographical information is scattered throughout the documentary, but when Caminer changes direction from telling the story of his fans for almost the entirety of the film to him, the shift feels clumsy. Yes, the film revolves around Springfield, so it might not seem like an illogical creative decision - I just found it jarring and almost like an afterthought on the director's part.
As much as I'm totally baffled by anyone deciding on Rick Springfield as their musical focal point, I can completely respect the fact that he's had a huge positive impact on the lives of the fans featured in An Affair Of The Heart and beyond. And while the film may take a fresh approach to the music documentary and offer an intriguing premise, it feels overstretched and frustratingly failed to sustain my interest.
Rating: D

2 comments:

  1. It seems clear you had a bias about Rick before you saw the movie which influenced your opinion. Your loss, because this is a sweet and wonderful movie.

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    1. I think I stated pretty clearly that my dislike of his music was only part of the reason for not liking the film. Being a fan of the subject in a music doc isn't a necessity for me - the Ginger Baker doc I reviewed a few weeks back was outstanding and I'm not a fan of his music at all.

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