August 14, 2014
Lonely Hearts (1982)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Paul Cox
Stars: Norman Kaye, Wendy Hughes, Jon Finlayson

What it's about. A romantic comedy set in Australia. Fifty-ish Peter (Norman Kaye), who makes a modest living as a piano tuner, has lived with his mother all his life, until her funeral that opens the movie. His sister, Pamela, is married and lives in a nearby city. His father (Ted Grove-Rogers) is senile and in a retirement home.

Peter now lives alone except for his dachshund, and decides it is time to date. He buys a new toupée and joins a dating service. He is matched with Patricia (Wendy Hughes), who is more than 20 years younger and decidedly more attractive. However, she is shy and sexually repressed, probably due to her parents, domineering blowhard Vic Gordon and smothering, meddlesome Irene Inescort.

Patricia gets along with Peter, and enjoys his activities, such as bingo and local theater, even though they invariably involve people who are much older than she is. At the amateur theater, grouchy director George (John Finlayson) proclaims Patricia as a natural actress, and puts her in his upcoming play, along with Peter and his friend Bruce (Jonathan Hardy).

The unlikely relationship between Peter and Patricia hums along until he attempts to have sex with her. Patricia is freaked out, and the fallout from the debacle is tough on Peter. Yet a happy ending is in store for all, except perhaps Patricia's exasperating parents.

How others will see it. Australian critics warmly embraced the comedy. It won Best Film at the Australian Film Institute and received four other major nominations: Best Director, Best Actress (Hughes), Best Actor (Kay), and Best Screenplay (Paul Cox, John Clarke).

The rest of the world mostly yawned. Today at, the film has a scant 263 user votes. The average user rating is 6.9, although women over 45 grade it higher at 7.5. However, the vote total is so low that demographic evaluations remain inconclusive.

For an AFI Best Film winner, Lonely Hearts is obscure, and is sometimes confused with movies based on serial killers Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez. Wendy Hughes, who died recently, had a splendid ten year stretch between 1978 and 1988 where she received six Best Actress AFI nominations, plus another for Best Supporting Actress. Cox worked steadily between 1976 and 2008 and has accumulated AFI nominations for 12 different films, although only My First Wife (1984) scored a Best Director trophy.

How I felt about it. The obvious observation is that Peter appears "too old" for Patricia. There is a 25-year gap between the ages of the two lead actors. In fact, Norman Kaye looks almost haggard, while Hughes' beauty is evident despite occasionally unbecoming glasses and hairstyles.

But she doesn't like sex, a big relationship downer for most men. Worse, she doesn't know yet that she will never like sex, no matter what man she meets, or how much time has gone by. This leads to angst for both Patricia and Peter. He hasn't yet realized that home base is walled off, and rounding second base may be as far as he will get. In fact, her pursuit of companionship may be a pretext for escaping her insufferable parents, who continue to see her as their property.