America's Heart & Soul: Louis Schwartzberg
Gregory Kirschling
July 07, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

America's Heart & Soul

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
PG
runtime
88 minutes
Limited Release Date
07/02/04
director
Louis Schwartzberg
distributor
Walt Disney Productions
genre
Documentary

We gave it a B-

Blandly assembled like an expensive-looking campaign commercial for either presidential candidate, the documentary that one conservative group is hyping as the anti?”Fahrenheit 9/11” is a Disneyfied series of snippets and vignettes about what makes the U.S. of A. the U.S. of A. Happy things, you see, like city skylines, bald eagles, mountains, gospel choirs, ice cream, steel mills, school buses, the Statue of Liberty, tractors, and Elvis impersonators.

Mostly we meet ”pioneer of the impossible” types in America’s Heart & Soul, but never for very long, or in much depth. Typical is the handlebar-mustached ”last cowboy around Telluride,” Roudy (pronounced ”rowdy,” of course). Roudy rides his trusty horse right into the middle of elk herds and downtown dive bars, but the film hints, right before blithely moving on to the next inspiring all-American, that he’s also a bit of a mean ol’ coot and a former boozehound. Nurturing that kind of gristle in its giant cast of characters might have gone a ways toward making the doc more than a sapfest. As is, the most deeply flawed — and thus human — figure in the movie might be the long-haired rock guitarist who day-jobs at a car wash, where, he admits, he watches ”Fast Times at Ridgemont High” twice daily.

The travelogue cinematography is often gorgeous, and the movie’s folks, however hastily presented, are winning (personal favorite: Trombone Shorty, a pint-size boy jazzman from New Orleans). It’s only that as a documentary about America, ”Heart & Soul” is less evocative and honest in all its 88 minutes than, say, just one of the throwaway establishing shots of Angela Arenivar’s dusty Texas-panhandle hometown in last year’s ”Spellbound,” a true American movie with a lot more heart and soul.

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