The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004)

*** This is mostly not about the heart, but that other place ***

Directed by and starring Asia Argento.

A mother (prostitute, substance-abuser, stripper, so forth) regains custody of her 7-year-old son, wrenching him from the arms of his loving foster parents. (If I were Knoxville, Tenn., I’d protest the representation of Child Protective Services in this movie.) Road trip ensues, with predictable results: boy sleeps in bathtub; boy doesn’t eat nourishing meals; boy does drugs; boy sees mom on the pot; on the couch in undignified poses; doing it in bed with various johns; boy is molested; made to dress in girl’s clothing and then re-molested; runs away; is brought back; sees low-budget dream visions, as Argento appears to be carrying some heavy Mediterranean Catholic baggage; interacts with name actors in bit parts; shows some acting chops; so forth. Amy Sidaris was born to play this mom in an over-the-top, campy, tasteless indie. “The Heart is Deceitful” could have been that movie – almost is, in fact, though not on purpose. But here we’re stuck with Argento instead of Sidaris

From the first shot of Argento I’m asking myself, is he supposed to be the boy’s mother for real and he’s going to do the whole movie in drag, or is he the boy’s transgendered father, or what? Too much lipstick, ridiculous fifties John Waters outfits, male-style fluffy armpits, shaved shanks, vascular hands. My gender speculations last through the whole movie because even after it becomes clear that Asia is going to go all the way as a woman, there are lots of scenes where lowlife guys tell him how beautiful he is and then show him that they mean it, the guy-on-guy action adding texture to the film.

When Peter Fonda and Ornella Muti and Jeremy Sisto (Rachel Griffiths’ crazy younger brother in Six Feet Under) show up in a flick like this, are they just doing somebody a favor or do they need a little work, or what? Sisto gets to rage and shout for 30 seconds, but then the meth lab blows up. Please tell me that they used a stunt double in burnt-flesh makeup to do the part where he stumbles out of the wreckage, smoldering, and stands in the road with his arms up a la Platoon and then drops to his knees and then keels over onto his face on the pavement. Ouch. Needing a little work is one thing, but dude, this is debasing. (Do meth labs in movies ever not blow up?)

Warning: We are teased with interior shots of a totally tricked-out, pimped-up 18-wheeler and Asia might have saved the movie right there by pausing the narrative and taking us all on a detailed tour of the rig. But no. Probably saving it for the sequel.

Checking my notes for the moments where I laughed out loud: guy holding cowboy hat over parts before whipping boy unmercifully; gratutious thumb-sucking by mother and son; red rubber crows; West Virginia House of the Lord; Asia Argento, Rome-born scriptwriter, saying “I’ll have another, I reckon”; John Robinson’s accent; scrubbing “down there” with a big scrub brush; huge pile of potatoes to be peeled; the market that in a later scene becomes a hospital.

Things to like: Tennessee locations; a decent rain scene; great tattoos all around; Ornella Muti.

After watching the movie, I checked IMDB and discovered to my amazement that Asia Argento is actually a woman.

Regarding the title, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” (Jeremiah 17:9) – better would have been Lamentations 2:11, “Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.”

Watch it drunk.