The first time we see May (Jessica Biel), she writes on a computer in the darkness of night. The blue glow from the screen hits her in the face and pierces the darkness around her. Her purple prose heard through a tantalizing voice-over, would not be out of place in a Lifetime movie. “Four days ago, on the outside, my life seemed perfect. Perfect boyfriend, perfect job, perfect peace. But something was always missing. That’s why I needed to find you. To find me”. That sounds very intense. After the title card, it becomes evident that we face one of the most popular maneuvers in the screenwriter toolbox: the flash-forward prologue. It lets you know that no matter how bland the beginning might be, there is trouble ahead to make things interesting. The indie thriller is available to stream at Popflick.
Dear diary: Jessica Biel writes down deep thoughts in the dead of night in "Bleeding Heart" / Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.
The anticipation is necessary. May is a yoga instructor firmly committed to spirituality and Eastern philosophy. She does not speechify about zealously progressive politics, but the “bleeding heart” title efficiently describes her. She is opening a studio with her live-in boyfriend, Dex (Eli Gathegi). So far, so bland. The only off-character note is the Chevy 65 she loves to drive. Dex wants to sell the gas guzzler and change it for an electric car. Good luck with that project, man. It becomes clear that the person she addressed in her dead-of-night confessional is not a lover but a biological sister she has never met. An unseen private detective tracked her down, and as luck would have it, Shiva (Zosia Mamet) lives half an hour from her. Disobeying Dex’s recommendations, she drives to the dumpy apartment complex where the lost sister resides with Cody (Joe Anderson), a violent creep on the margins of the law.
The sisters are a study in contrasts. May lucked out into a life of privilege via adoption. She even has a wealthy, widowed mother in Santa Barbara who underwrites her personal business. Kate Burton, better known as the smarmy vice-president in Netflix’s series “House of Cards,” plays her with bitch-queen insouciance. Shiva had her biological mother around, but it seems to have been a mixed blessing, leaning towards disaster. She is poor, and by the inflection in her voice when she says she works as a masseuse, you know she means the kind that offers happy endings.
Mama knows better: Kate Burton sees trouble coming in "Bleeding Heart" / Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.
As contrived as the relationship feels, the scene where they get to know each other in a bar is a perfect showcase for the actresses. Biel is one of those transparent performers you can virtually see thinking. When Shiva says she gives massages, she perks up at the revelation that this long-lost sister might work in a wellness-related industry, just like she does. But she quickly realizes her services are closer to the flesh than the spirit. You see glee, dismay, and acceptance flashing in seconds on her face. It’s equally sad and funny.
It’s a shame that Jessica Biel has not been able to find challenging roles in film. She recently gave a beautifully calibrated performance in the Hulu series “Candy,” based on the infamous case of Candy Montgomery, the model wife and mother from suburban Texas who, in the early 80s, brutally killed a neighbor with whose husband she was having an affair. Biel was so good in the role that she made "Love & Death," HBO’s in-the-works dramatization of the same case redundant by the time it aired in the Summer of 2023. Fresh out of her run as Scarlet Witch in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it's a coup to have her playing Candy Montgomery, but the show had the unfortunate timing of premiering months after Biel offered a definite version of the true-crime narrative.
She ain't heavy, she's my sister: Zosia Mamet lives on the wrong side of the tracks in "Bleeding Heart" / Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
Zosia Mamet is the daughter of playwright David Mamet, far from the poor, white girl she plays here. It’s not by chance that out of her long filmography, the role that has made the biggest impression in pop culture is Shoshanna, one of the charmed townies in the HBO series “Girls” (2012-2017). Mamet pulls a nifty trick imbuing Shiva with quiet dignity while keeping a veil of mystery over her true motivations. Half of the movie depends on suspense around the possibility that she is taking naive May for the proverbial ride, the other half on how the newly-minted relationship brings out darker impulses in the soft-hearted yogi.
Diane Bell is a better director than a writer. Her camera movement, composition, and editing are well-tuned to observe her performers inhabiting their characters. Biel and Mamet put on a good show. Regretfully, Bell seems too concerned to make things clear for the viewer, throwing telltale symbols at us. Check out the title, a scornful put down for those who preach happiness and contentment with the universe and society. It is a backhanded compliment to May, dismissing her spiritual concerns as an ill-fitting costume. Shiva names herself after the Hindu god of destruction. It is like a neon-lit sign about the peril May faces by falling in her orbit. And just in case you don’t have the references to decode this, there is a Shiva statuette in her apartment. In a totally unnecessary scene, scuzzy Cody points out the symbolism of the newfound sister as a veiled threat. In a particularly on-the-nose moment, May contemplates a photo of Shiva on her phone and aligns her reflection to hers. It's funny to find a wink at the classic "Persona" (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) in a tawdry genre piece.
"Persona" for shlock: Biel melds into Mamet in "Bleeding Heart" / Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.
One could argue the obviousness makes the movie clear and welcoming. At a pivotal point, May reacts against her own character to save Shiva from a tight spot. It’s the kind of crowd-pleasing scene that makes people holler and clap in a theater - Mark Hamlin, the strapping Perseus of the original “Clash of the Titans” (1981), and yuppie lawyer Michael Kuzak in long-running T.V. series “L.A. Law” (1986-1991), plays a seedy john ripe for comeuppance -. However, good faith runs out when a massive plot hole opens up to trigger the denouement. I hate to carp on the plausibility of plot development on a genre piece, but (spoiler alert) I would like to know how the hell Cody managed to track the number of May’s rich momma and why she thought it was a good idea to give her address to the dirtbag. And while we are at it, why was May writing a confessional letter - email? DM? Instagram post? - to the woman sleeping 2 feet away from her while they are running away? Well, so we, the audience, can hear her thoughts.
“Bleeding Heart” is available to stream at Popflick. It can get really silly, but it is sillier to get bothered by it. Focus on Biel and Mamet, who give solid performances and deserve a better script.
A yoga instructor looks to protect her sex-worker sister from her deadbeat boyfriend.Stream Now
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