It's been quite the year for Adam Driver, turning in the highlight performance in Noah Baumbach's While We're Young, receiving universal attention for his upcoming role as Kylo Ren in the New Star wars movie, and, plopped right in the middle, getting a juicy lead role in the oddball Hungry Hearts. He plays a pretty average guy named named Jude, who after an awkward meeting in a bathroom, impregnates an Italian woman named Mina (Alba Rohwacher). They proceed to get married, and all seems well until she gives birth to their baby, at which a massive, bizarre conflict ensues. Adam simply wants to raise the child as any normal person would, giving him proper nutrition and fresh air to ensure strong health. Mina, on the other hand, becomes obsessed with keeping the child away from sunlight and modern medicine, instead relying on a vegan diet and some sort of oil that seems to prevent the baby from absorbing nutrients. Her reasons in part are based on her belief that the baby is an Indigo Child, which, in the words of Jude, is "a child that's come to earth from another dimension to save us all."
What follows is essentially a battle between the couple over how to raise the child, with Jude initially acting angry and aggressive, and then trying to solve things rationally, while Mina basically refuses to listen to his arguments, simply quietly insisting that her methods are the best. As the film progresses, we clearly sense that writer/director Saverio Costanzo has no interest in making an engaging film about marital differences, but rather to turn the material into something of a horror movie (there's no way Rosemary's Baby wasn't an influence). As the battle intensifies with Jude's mother arriving on the scene and taking sides with her son, his camera moves from standard handheld to disorienting shots, many taken from high angles, as if there's ghosts floating through the air and watching this nightmarish domestic drama unfold. Or perhaps controlling is the better word, for we get the sense that Mina, with her eerily calm insistence on rearing the baby in her own way, might actually be possessed.
Jude grows more and more desperate as the film progresses, forced to sneak the baby to a nearby church to feed it meat and eventually to get legal help. The major turning point in the film comes when he takes the baby to live at his mother's house with the agreement that Mina can visit him when she pleases. Of course we know Adam's scheme will not going according to plan.
It's a pretty decent premise, yet for all its potential Costanzo comes up frustratingly short on creating any memorable moments with it. It's obvious that he's embracing the movie's strangeness, but he doesn't end up doing much with it. And for a film that has no real intelligence or interesting things to say, it desperately needs these moments in order for it to work. The closest he gets is a creepy scene in which Mina visits the mother's house and finds her cooking some meat over the stove. The camera focuses on the mother's face as we see Mina out of focus in the background, silent as the mother tells her that she's not going to fall for Mina's tricks. At this point we feel Mina is capable of anything, and the viewer half expects her to break her unsettling silence by taking and frying pan and smashing it over the mother's head. The tension is palpable. Or another moment when Mina leans over Jude while he's trying to sleep and whispers that the baby just threw up meat. "What do you know about this?" she asks, and then slips away as Jude doesn't respond. He knows, and we know, that his wife is aware of his Church visits with the baby.
A more capable and inventive filmmaker could have done something pretty awesome with Hungry Hearts, but Costanzo seems content to settle for mediocrity and the idea that at least he's made a film unlike any made before it. That, however, does not mean it's good. But at least we get to see Adam Driver showcase his range. Typically cool and laid back, Driver here gets to be a man spiraling out of control as he tries to maintain control. Surely to become one of the most prolific actors in the next few years (after Star Wars he's got at least two big roles coming up in new films from Jeff Nichols and Martin Scorsese), if you see this movie it should at least make you a little more excited for the goods to come.