America's Heart and Soul

Disney's film America's Heart and Soul is less a movie than a theme park ride (or, 'attraction' as they say). It feels out of place in a theater, and more in place in some big circular building in Disneyland where parents can escape the crowds and sit down for a while. This movie exists primarily because of 9/11. Director Louis Schwartzberg wanted to make a film celebrating America by spotlighting its people. He wanted to focus on the positive. There are 24 short segments on people all over the country, and Schwartzberg tends towards the humorous and uplifting. These are all different sorts of people doing all different sorts of things. The people and their stories are inspiring, and Schwartzberg's camera work is fantastic, but there is no heart or soul in the film.

Everything comes off as exceedingly bland, and this is because of Schwartzberg's style. If he spent 5 minutes with each person/group, his film would push a two-hour running time. America's Heart and Soul is less than half that time, so everything feels rushed and superficial. Some people are literally on screen for a few minutes before the film moves on to somebody else. This is a slight on some of the stories, which are extremely inspirational. By giving the Cliff's Notes version of their lives, he unwittingly glosses over what makes them so special, leaving a superficial impression of who these people really are. It's quite a shame, since some of them deserve more time on film. Schwartzberg chose breadth over depth because he wanted as large a cross-section as possible; the idea sounded okay, but its execution didn't work like he thought it would.

Most of the stories are the type you'd see in a prime time news magazine. This means that ordinarily, each person would probably get fifteen to twenty minutes of airtime. This way, an interview could glean more information about who they are and why viewers should care. There are truly inspiration people like Rick, who is quadriplegic and suffers from cerebral palsy, and his father, Daryl Hoyt. The two run marathons together. The Weirton Steelworkers banded together and bought their mill, forming an employee-owned company. Ace Barnes is 70, and still outpaces many of his coworkers when they put out oilrig fires. Erik Weihenmayer is a blind mountain climber.

Other stories tend toward the humorous. Every year Berkeley hosts a festival showcasing some cars that blur the line between art and transportation. Paul Stone shoot objects into and through all sorts of things, mainly because it can get a bit dull in his rural Colorado town. One recurring theme is music, and Schwartzberg spans genres, touching on rock (with Frank and Dave Pino), gospel (Mosie Burks), klezmer (David Krakauer), and jazz (James Andrews III). He has farmers, pilots, artists, and others. It all goes by quickly, and as a small gripe, Schwartzberg's America contains no Middle Easterners and no Asians (but on Alaskan). Still, his purpose was to make people feel good, and it does, but it's all so bland.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 24 minutes, Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

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