Heartbreak Hospital

Nicely shot around New York City, this dodgy mixture of cutesy romance, dark satire and murder mystery uses the same central conceit as Neil LaBute's NURSE BETTY: A deranged soap opera fan mistakes the romantic world of her favorite daytime drama for "real life." This time, however, the confusion leads to murder and a much less successful movie. Lotte (Patricia...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Nicely shot around New York City, this dodgy mixture of cutesy romance, dark satire and murder mystery uses the same central conceit as Neil LaBute's NURSE BETTY: A deranged soap opera fan mistakes the romantic world of her favorite daytime drama for "real life." This time, however, the confusion leads to murder and a much less successful movie. Lotte (Patricia Clarkson), who's obsessed with the soap "Heartbreak Hospital," has a grip on reality that's shaky at best. She even tells her neighbor, struggling actress Neely Kendall (Chelsea Altman), that her boyfriend is "Dr. Jonathan," played by seamy aging soap stud Milo Derringer (John Shea). There's also a pretty good chance that some of the "Die Bitch"-flavored hate mail addressed to Sunday Tyler (Diane Venora), the undisputed diva of daytime who plays Dr. Jonathan's love/hate interest, is coming from Lotte. Neely, meanwhile, sick of the endless auditions that lead to nothing, is seriously thinking about giving up. Then she lands a part on "Heartbreak Hospital" playing a bandaged coma patient. Her boyfriend Tonio (Demian Bichir) thinks she's selling herself cheap, but Neely assures him that it's bound to be a short gig; with the jealous and insecure Sunday around, pretty young actresses have a way of disappearing after a week or two. But once the bandages comes off, Neely becomes an overnight daytime sensation and is offered a two-year contract. Milo, meanwhile, is worried about his future: He has no real career outside of "HH," and the all-powerful Sunday is threatening to have Dr. Jonathan written out of the show. When Milo finally meets his biggest fan — Lotte — he realizes just how handy a crazed fan with a homicidal hatred of Sunday can be. Though based on a novel, Henry Slesar's Murder at Heartbreak Hospital, the script feels unfocused. It bounces from the soapy travails of Neely and Tonio — they make up and break up in a variety of adorable ways, but you won't care — to the creepy world of poor, demented Lotte and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans at "HH," which eventually end in murder. The "whodunit" angle, however, feels forced, and as far as satire goes, the more affectionate — and funnier — SOAPDISH got there first. The film works best as a tribute to actors and their profession; not surprisingly, first-time feature director Reudi Gerber is best known in his native Germany for his stage work.

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