From the Heart of the Crowd (2011) – By Philip Smolen

Nina Wyeth (Cassie Ann Ross) is a 30-something writer. She has just completed a successful tour to promote her new book “June July” which Wyeth characterizes as a “non-romance” novel. She’s met many adoring fans who all want to know the same thing: what parts of the novel come from her personal experience? Nina insists that the book reflects none of her past. She flies in to visit her brother (Nicholas Null), but doesn’t stay with him, preferring instead to rent a hotel room so she can begin preparation for her next book. However, she finds herself unable to work. Nina is visited by her former lover Ivan Green (Mark Johnson) who’s initially unsuccessful at trying to revive their physical relationship. Then, at the park the next day, she meets Buddy Cortez (director Edgar Muňiz), a hopeless romantic who falls head over heels for Nina. When asked, he quickly agrees to be interviewed by her for her research. But during the interview process Nina feels herself succumbing to Buddy’s romantic charms. But this is one more distraction that she doesn’t want in her perfectly ordered life. So Nina must make a choice – leave and return to her neat and tidy ways, or plunge herself headlong into a wild romantic fling with a younger man.

“From the Heart of the Crowd” is courageous film making that presents the viewer with a challenge. Muňiz gives us an unlikable main character and asks us to care about her. This is difficult since she is emotionally distant (much like the lead character in Muňiz’s other recent film “Olivia,” which is also reviewed in this issue). Nina is a woman who fails to realize that her past inability to connect with people has greatly damaged her. She has compartmentalized her life into neat little areas and prefers to remain isolated from everyone she knows. It’s ironic that she writes prose that touches people, but is untouchable herself. She’s most susceptible when true romantic Buddy confesses his feelings to her, but knows that committing to him will mean that she’ll no longer have total control of her life. Even worse, she knows that she will be vulnerable. This truly frightens her.
Muňiz carefully composes his shots in the movie to achieve maximum emotional effect. They emphasize emptiness and coldness. The film is even shot in black and white to reflect how Nina sees everything; a life without color, passion, or depth – merely shades of grey.

Muňiz has gathered a fabulous cast. Cassie Ann Ross (who also wrote the screenplay with Muňiz) gives a sincere but frosty performance as Nina. She gives her an impervious almost robotic façade. It’s only during the last scene that you get a brief look into what she’s hiding inside. She’s so good here that you wish that Muňiz would’ve included more scenes like this. Also impressive is Muňiz as Buddy, who does his best to break through Nina’s tough exterior. He’s friendly and likable and you find yourself rooting for him to succeed. Mark Johnson is appropriately caveman-like as Ivan Green. He’s only interested in one thing. Lana Corinne Sias (from Muňiz’s “Olivia”) makes the most of her one scene as a former student of Nina’s who’s now not afraid to tell her teacher what she thinks.

But while the film is daring and thoughtful, it is also dry and somewhat frustrating. The pace is off. Some scenes go on way too long, while others end just as they are getting interesting. This unevenness hurts the film. But if you like cinematic challenges, then you should check out “From the Heart of the Crowd.” It’s distinctive enough, but be forewarned: it’s the story of a heroine who’s not easy to root for.

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