When an opinionated lesbian artist moves back home with her conservative homophobic mother, it’s bound to spell trouble. Add in the turbulence of life lost, family dynamics, and matters of the heart and you’ve got yourself quite the rodeo (if we can borrow the Oklahoma cliché).
Director Maura Anderson’s feature film Heartland is an interesting drama filled with struggle and reckless romance. When Lauren (Velinda Godfrey) loses her lover to cancer, she returns home to discover she’s been kicked out of her apartment for falling behind on rent, understandably because she’s been staying in the hospital for 4 months. Brokenhearted and homeless, Lauren does what most of us would do. She calls Mom. Lauren’s mother, Crystal (Beth Grant) seems like the perfect mother on the exterior. A cheerful, churchgoing woman who knows the struggle of love lost, Crystal buried her own husband, and Lauren’s father, some 15 years prior. However, Crystal doesn’t offer the support Lauren really needs, as Crystal is homophobic and refused to acknowledge Lauren’s lover as anything more than “such a good friend.”
As Lauren begins to put her life back together, her brother Justin (Aaron Leddick) returns home for a visit. Justin works for a winery with his girlfriend Carrie (Laura Spencer), and the two of them are seizing an opportunity to set up a new winery near Justin and Lauren’s hometown of Guthrie, OK. Feeling sorry for Lauren, Justin and Carrie agree to let Lauren design some labels for their new wine, sort of as a way for Lauren to keep herself occupied. As a result, Lauren and Carrie spend plenty of time together, putting an already dysfunctional family on the path to chaos.
Velinda Godfrey delivers a convincing performance as a grieving artist who sadly must cope with her loss all on her own. With no one at her side during the loss of her girlfriend, no job, and an eviction notice greeting her at home, Lauren displays an almost inhuman level of strength. Maura Anderson juxtaposes this beautifully with Lauren’s mother, Crystal. As a woman who knows the pain of death personally, Crystal should have been there for her daughter. However, similar to Lauren, Crystal finds her own way to bottle up her emotions and hides them behind a much more cheerful veneer than her daughter.
A high point of the film is Laura Spencer’s portrayal of Carrie. The product of a well-to-do Napa Valley family, Carrie is a deer in headlights from the moment she arrives in Oklahoma. Overdressed for parties and completely thrown by the Oklahoman aversion to alcohol, Carrie is the quintessential fish out of water. Amazingly, it is this outsider mentality that strangely draws Carrie and Lauren together. It only takes two black sheep to make a flock.
Heartland is a moving story that keeps the audience engaged for the full 98 minute running time. Each character is both loved and despised for their unique combinations of strengths and flaws, and the chemistry within this cast is evident from the opening scenes. Director Maura Anderson, however, takes quite a risk in offering an ending with so little conflict resolution. Clearly Lauren’s story is far from over, but it’s doubtful we’ll really get to know the final chapter.