SpED Hearts

SpED Hearts is a film with an agenda, and it lays it out pretty clearly in one scene. In this scene, a group of teachers have gathered around a table with a parent of a special needs child, and they repeatedly sing the praise of a particular method for educating special needs kids. The points are certainly valid, but it really shouldn’t have played out this way. A better movie would have dramatized all of this, integrating the arguments in the story that plays out. SpED Hearts is certainly sincere, but it just doesn’t make for a very good movie.

The plot, as it is, goes something like this: Rina (Ciara Sotto) is a single mom who teaches at a school that places special needs students with regular students. She lives with her affluent father, who thinks that she should start looking at other careers in order to support her daughter. Things get complicated when she starts a relationship with Jonathan (Paolo Rivero), a sales agent that her father doesn’t approve of. A big fight has her moving out of the house and living with Jonathan. It all falls apart when Jonathan loses his job, and Ciara is made to reconsider all her decisions.

The movie tries to make a case for this particular brand of educating special needs children. As that goes, it’s admirable, but the movie just doesn’t do a very good job of it. The script lacks a sense of drama and narrative escalation, the tone and emotion pretty much staying at the same level for the entire film. Tears are shed and voices are raised, but we never really understand, because the film doesn’t really build up to anything. Rina’s entire relationship with Jonathan feels like a waste of time, because we never really understand why the two are together in the first place. By the time they break up, it isn’t clear why we’re supposed to care. And when it’s time for the movie to try and bring them back together, it just doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Complicating matters even further is a whole other plot concerning this teacher who has a family but is secretly gay and is going out with a man. From the tone of these scenes, one suspects that the storyline is somewhat of a personal. I can appreciate that, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the movie, and it only serves to further muddle an already troubled narrative. Production levels aren’t very high, the movie never really becoming visually arresting with its markedly static photography. There are a couple of sound problems as well. But the larger problem is that the style in which the movie is shot doesn’t jive with how the scenes play out. The dialogue attempts to be somewhat naturalistic, and though it’s not always successful, the film sometimes captures the offbeat pacing of people just talking over each other. But the camera doesn’t keep up with the conversation, the frame often too wide to capture the intimacy of the lines, too static to make it feel like we’re supposed to be listening. The camera keeps the audience at too much of a distance, and that really doesn’t work. The acting is pretty hit-and-miss already, but it’s made even worse by the fact that the camera just isn’t there when it does hit.

The subject of SpED Hearts is obviously very close to the hearts of the filmmakers, but it just didn’t work out. The script is too much of a mess, and the movie just ends up being directionless and unfocused. There are moments in the film where the sheer earnestness and enthusiasm might win you over for a minute or two, but to be honest, those moments are far and few in between. Mostly, the lack of narrative drive keeps the film from ever really taking off.