I have to start by confessing that Playing By Heart is one of my very favourite films. I can't give you a clear reason why this should be among the films that I turn to when I want to be entertained, but it has something to do with a very strong ensemble cast and a slightly soapy feel that pays off in the most satisfying way.
I get warm squishy feelings watching the budding relationships between Trent (Jon Stewart) and Meredith (Gillian Anderson) and between Joan (Angelina Jolie) and Keenan(Ryan Phillipe), though the Stewart/Anderson chemistry rings much more true than that of Jolie/Phillipe. Hannah (Geena Rowlands) and Paul (Sean Connery) are preparing to renew their vows but have to get past some skeletons in the closet. While the film does not lack funny lines and sharp dialogue, Paul gets some of the best, delivering one of my favourite lines of all time and espousing some interesting philosophies about the nature of love.
The film is an exception for writer/director Willard Carroll, most of his work has been on childrens' films like The Brave Little Toaster series and Tom's Midnight Garden. It's a shame, too, because he shows a real ear for dialogue and the messy world of romantic relationships. The only big criticism I have is with the timeline. Events seem to take place inside of just a few days, but I suspect they are spread over several weeks.
Did I mention the soap opera feel? It is, at times, very overblown and melodramatic, but at the same time, it is touching and sweet, and even though I have seen it many many times, I still enjoy spending time with the characters, and that says a lot.