Lonely Hearts (1982)

“You’re nearly fifty, you know – you’ve got to do something with your life!”

Lonely Hearts Poster

Synopsis:
When his mother dies, a 49-year-old bachelor (Norman Kaye) begins dating a pretty, inexperienced young woman (Wendy Hughes) with overly controlling parents. Though Kaye and Hughes get along famously, Hughes’ sexual repression eventually puts a kink in their relationship.

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Review:
Australian director Paul Cox became known to U.S. audiences with the release of this amiable, sensitive romance about two awkward souls falling in love. Kaye and Hughes — fixtures of Australian cinema — are both impeccable in the lead roles; gorgeous Hughes somehow manages to instantly convince us that her “mousy” character is repressed and awkward, while balding Kaye radiates a unique kind of confidence and likable quirkiness (his grin says so much!). The screenplay is gently paced, never in a hurry, instead showing us the natural unfolding of this new couple’s love and respect for one another. They go out to eat and drink; listen to records; take leisurely strolls and kiss; have dinner with Kaye’s controlling sister (Julia Blake) and her husband (Jonathan Hardy); and join a local theater production of Strindberg’s The Father, run by a hilariously overwrought martinet (Jon Finlayson). Lurking in the background is Kaye’s desire to begin a sexual relationship with Hughes, and Hughes’ fear of this inevitable progression. While one wishes at times for a bit more explanation of certain character traits — Kaye’s struggle with kleptomania comes out of nowhere, for instance — it’s difficult to quibble with the overall sincerity of this sweet Australian flick.

Favorite (reaction to a) line: “A Swedish pastor.” (!!)

Note: Cox’s other Peary-listed film is Man of Flowers (1983), also starring Kaye.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Norman Kaye as Peter
    Lonely Hearts Kaye
  • Wendy Hughes as Patricia
    Lonely Hearts Hughes
  • Jon Finlayson as George
    Lonely Hearts Finlayson
  • Jonathan Hardy as Bruce
    Lonely Hearts Hardy
  • A sensitively filmed tale of emergent romance
    Lonely Hearts Romance

Must See?
Yes, for the stellar lead performances, and as a fine, refreshingly unassuming romance. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book. Winner of the Australian Academy Award for Best Picture.

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One Response to “Lonely Hearts (1982)”

  1. First viewing. Not particularly must-see (like a lot of Australian films, it’s not all that easy to find), but it’s the kind of quiet, small, episodic, basically two-character piece that ultimately gives way to refreshing rewards for audiences who like modest films of this type.

    Like the characters of Hughes (who I’d seen in a few other films) and Kaye, this is an awkward film in some ways but that’s largely the point. Still, as charming as the film often is, it can also be somewhat frustrating since – as pointed out above – certain things are either left out or left hanging. ~which may also be part of the point: we’re peeking into the lives of these two people, and a peek in would not necessarily mean that all would be revealed.

    Nevertheless, a rough patch arises now and then, due to what’s kept from us. Why, for example, does Kaye visit one of his piano clients pretending to be a blind man? What purpose does that serve? And why – when Kaye is visited by his brother-in-law while a prostitute is in his home – does the scene just end just as it’s getting started? While the film, overall, is edited quite well for effect, we can sometimes be short-changed. And, in some cases, we’re given too much: Finlayson’s theater director is far too abrasive (and, realistically speaking, far too ineffective); the fun sub-plot of the theater production is somewhat undone by its emphasis on cheap laughs.

    To me, the ending seems a bit too abrupt and not completely earned. But, all things considered, that’s a small point.

    All that said, the film isn’t boring; it generally moves rather well. Personally, I would have preferred things being a bit more punched-up in the humor department. But the theme of the awkwardness that lies within many of us is one to appreciate.

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