Playing By Heart (** Ĺ) - Hereís another movie that wound up a near miss for me. There was a lot for me to like in this film, but I felt it didnít really add up to much and itís ďsurpriseĒ ending felt too much like a gimmick, one which I predicted to the tee since my brain usually works overtime when a film gives me time in between scenes to think about it. (It didnít work in The Thin Red Lineís favor, which I understood, but just didnít really care about what it was saying - see bottom.)Anyway, back to the movie at hand. Basically youíre dealing with a movie that interweaves the audience through five different couples and one man who weaves himself through three different potential women (even if one is a drag queen). Liking the movie comes down to not only liking the writing associated with each couple, but with the couples themselves. Easily the best for me was the relationship between Angelina Jolie (in the filmís best performance) and Ryan Phillippe (who I canít stand, but his character is nicely handled and made me tolerate his presence). Their scenes are dead-on and fascinating. Every couple plays a distant second to these two, but the closest is the Jon Stewart/Gillian Anderson courtship. Stewart handles himself very well in the way Anderson keeps shooting down his advances and a kitchen scene ranks as their best moment. Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands do nice jobs as a couple approaching their wedding anniversary by confronting past secrets. You can sense a true love between the two of them - so much so, that you almost wish the writer would have left the ďaffairĒ stuff out of the film. Ellen Burstyn and Jay Mohr play another couple as a mother at her dying sonís bedside. Also nicely played. The one couple that truly fails is the Madeline Stowe/Anthony Edwards couple. They have so few scenes in the film itís a wonder why they are in there at all except for a necessity to tie up the ending. Both characters truly could have been dumped and the movie wouldnít suffer a bit. That leaves us with the roaming male character played by Dennis Quaid. His performance is entertaining even if his co-stars in these scenes lack in the writing department. But whatís it all about?It doesnít have the underlying message of the far superior multi-character comedy Beautiful Girls (one of the most underrated films of the 90s) or at least it doesnít really come through. Itís more like watching an improv exercise with really good actors who have a background sense of their characters and told to just go with it - especially when you see the filmís big ending which ties everything together in a nice neat package and ends up cheapening the effect of spending some time in these characterís lives.