Heartbreak Hospital (2002) 7th Art Releasing
1 hr. 31 mins.
Starring: Chelsea Altman, Patricia Clarkson, Diane Venora, John Shea, Demian Bichir
Directed by: Rudolph Gerber

Heartbreak Hospital



Photo: 7th Art Releasing

There are a couple of main flaws you can pick out right away concerning first-time feature writer-director Rudolph (“Reudi”) Gerber’s satirical banal bedpan comedy romancer Heartbreak Hospital. First, Gerber’s satire relentlessly delves into tiring clichés in its send-up on the ridiculously over-dramatic (and unintentional hilarity) of these raucous sudsy programs and the clueless millions who worship this farfetched fare with unexplainable devotion. Secondly, Gerber’s overwrought soap spoof is one misguided mockery that fails to touch upon the humorous and wacky psychological elements other films such as Neil LaBute’s darkly delightful Nurse Betty and even Michael Hoffman’s star-studded yet lame Soapdish achieved so easily with effortless flair. Unfortunately, Heartbreak Hospital wants to convey the same kind of haughtiness in its own sketchy material but this territory has already been explored previously with better aplomb and sardonic wit.

Based on Henry Slesar’s juicy novel Murder at Heartbreak Hospital, this movie tries desperately to juggle the thinly veiled convoluted script that evidently bounces all over the place by trying to wear a trio of creative hats as an off-kilter romance, a “whodunit” vehicle and of course as a caustic satire. But Gerber’s strikes out on all three counts while never giving any depth or jolting insurgence to any of the plotline angles involved. If anything, Heartbreak Hospital feels too flat in its derivativeness to offer anything that’s conclusively hysterical or suspenseful in vying for tension-packed outrageousness.

Going along the lines of its aforementioned Nurse Betty-type premise, a demented daytime drama fan named Lotte Ohrwasher (Patricia Clarkson, The Pledge and High Art) is a diehard viewer of the soap Heartbreak Hospital. She eats, sleeps and breathes this program she reveres so much. It’s safe to say that Lotte’s cheese has fallen off her cracker because she has no concept as to where her reality about his soap begins and where her fantasy ends. And to exacerbate the twisted matters even more, Lotte has set her eyes on the show’s maturing studmuffin actor Milo Derringer (John Shea) whose character’s name is Dr. Jonathan. In disturbing fashion, Lotte brags about her “boyfriend” Dr. Jonathan to her neighbor and aspiring actress Neely Kendall (Chelsea Altman).

Figuratively speaking of course, things start to get interesting if not complicated for the cheesy participants involved in their own “real-life” sudsy dilemma outside of the Heartbreak Hospital fictional walls. For those of you willing to keep track of the proceedings, here goes nothing: Lotte’s pal Neely finally gets the break she has been looking for and lands a small role as a banged-up bandaged patient on HH. Soon, she becomes a sudden sensation on the show, much to the dismay of immensely popular villainous daytime diva Sunday Tyler (Diane Venora, The Insider), a Susan Lucci/Erika Kane prototype that fears this opportunistic upstart performer may steal her precious thunder on her program. And such as the cookie crumbles in all showbiz-related pettiness, Sunday schemes to put the cork in Neely’s rising star thanks to her harboring the old insecure and “green monster” feelings pent up inside.

However, Sunday Tyler is not the only obstacle in Neely Kendall’s way that resents her instant stardom on daytime television. For starters, Neely’s boyfriend Tonio (Demain Bichir) isn’t too thrilled with his galpal’s choice of artistic merit by working on the flimsy sudser. Consequently, pressure is added when lead lothario Milo starts putting the moves on Neely while making Lotte increasingly envious because Milo/Dr. Jonathan is her sacred property! After all, how dare Neely use her unassuming charms to snag Dr. Jonathan when poor deranged Lotte has had her heart beating for the dashing TV physician since time began? In the meantime, Sunday not only looks to put a stop to Neely’s brief successful run on HH, but she has the target planted on Milo’s unsuspecting back. She hopes to get rid of his part on the show by having him written out. This all fits very well in terms of timing just as Milo’s crazed number one fan Lotte enters the picture and meets him for the first time. Hmmm…one wonders how the beleaguered Milo can exploit the volatile yet willing Lotte to show her “appreciation” for him, especially at the expense of that backstabbing bitchy Sunday? Sounds like a time to test Lotte’s loyalty as a homicidal honeybunny, don’t you think? So the question remains: just how committed is the loony Lotte to her dreamboat Milo/Dr. Jonathan? Is she willing to engage in murder in order to maintain that delusional affection she has for her boob tube medical manipulator? Simply raise your hands if you already knew where this whole predicament was heading to some twenty minutes into this frivolous farce.

Heartbreak Hospital is about as stimulating as a cold stethoscope. Granted, Gerber wanted to generate this nonsensical story and turn it into some ironic and giddy commentary on the world of soap operas not just in front of the camera, but the madcap madness that it generates behind the scenes from the spoiled actors and the program’s handlers that partake in this genre to the non-discriminating viewing audience who adores this whole process as an escapist medium. But Gerber only manages to conjure up a ball of confusion that merely cobbles together a decidedly uneventful chain of feverish, empty-minded platitudes.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng


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