Theatrical Review: MY HEART IS AN IDIOT

Kate Erbland

by: Kate Erbland
May 23rd, 2011

Rating: 4/5

Director: David Meiklejohn

Anyone familiar with Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s 2009 film, EASIER WITH PRACTICE, will be able to vouch for the fact that Davy Rothbart’s heart is, indeed, very much an idiot. That film was a fictionalized account of an ill-fated chapter in Rothbart’s romantic history – some time spent on tour promoting his writing, criss-crossing the country, and seeking connection with an ultimately unreachable and inscrutable woman. In David Meiklejohn’s MY HEART IS AN IDIOT, Rothbart and his messy love life is again our subject, but the first-time director’s documentary gives us further perspective on where all that aortic idiocy really comes from to hilarious and heart-warming results.

When we meet Rothbart, it’s during a banner day in his life – copies of his first short story collection have just arrived, and he is celebrating by spending that night saying goodbye to his housemate, Alex, an alluring young lady that Rothbart fancies himself in love with. As the film loosely frames itself around Rothbart’s pursuit of Alex, it becomes apparent that the heart of the matter is not just Alex – it’s really just another example of Rothbart’s lifelong predilection to being consumed by love, possibility, the confessional spectacle of pain that seems to follow every failed “relationship.” Rothbart has progressed somewhat since the days EASIER WITH PRACTICE chronicled, but he’s still guilty of not just romanticizing women, but entire relationships, whole lifetimes.

As Rothbart goes out on tour to promote his magazine, Found, and his new book, we simultaneously work through different elements of his quest to win Alex’s heart. We see Rothbart waiting for Alex to join up with the tour, glimpses of what is going on back in Rothbart’s hometown in Michigan, and are treated to different people trying to impart relationship advice on a struggling-mightily Rothbart. These sections of the film would otherwise feel the most “gimmicky” – Meiklejohn uses handcrafted paperwork to chart their course, and Rothbart speaks to a number of varied big names (from Newt Gingrich to Zooey Deschanel) – but there’s an inherent lo-fi charm to the film that doesn’t let stuff like this overpower it.

Rothbart owes many of his problems to the general hazards of being a writer – the confessional aspect of the film is both what makes his audience feel close to him and also what leads to the alienation of those people actually in his life. Rothbart may have issues with women, but he has no problem opening up to perfect strangers or to the camera. Rothbart, for all his oft-described “con artistry,” is desperate to be known and understood – but he has internalized that desire so completely that it’s made him blind to the needs of others he professes to love. MY HEART IS AN IDIOT is not just one love story, it’s many, and it’s crafted with a deft hand that reveals how things really are in Rothbart’s life with a sure and kind touch.

But if MY HEART IS AN IDIOT teaches us anything about romance on a universal scale, it’s that every romantic entanglement is not without its own twists, surprises, and complications. The trajectory of Rothbart’s love story is unexpectedly complex, and there’s an entire other plotline introduced in the middle of MY HEART IS AN IDIOT that changes just about everything – the meaning of what Rothbart is pursuing with Alex, the authenticity of what Rothbart claims to be searching for, and just who Rothbart truly is at his idiot heart. There is an unreliability to Rothbart as narrator that gets tossed at the audience. He’s not the only one with a stake in this story, and it was foolish of us to think that we could hear about Rothbart’s heart from just Rothbart and call it a day. It’s a clever, engaging “twist” that reminds us how real the story really is.

As a documentary, MY HEART IS AN IDIOT has a consistently interesting and sprightly flow to it; for a first-time feature, it is remarkably cohesive and well put-together. There are a number of moments, however, when it’s hard not to question the authenticity of certain situations. Some experiences feel like a better reenactment of something that actually happened in some other way, shape, or form. But the spirit and truth of Rothbart’s story stays tight throughout – all the stupidity and grace of it – and if Rothbart isn’t changed by the end of it, at least we are.

David Meiklejohn and Davy Rothbart are currently touring with the film - check out a list of screenings HERE.

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