PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Film

Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Love Story

Showing how three individuals create a family, Three of Hearts underlines how the idea and the experience change over time.


Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Love Story

Director: Susan Kaplan
Cast: Sam Cagnina, Steven Margolin, Samantha Singh
Rated: NR
Studio: ThinkFilm
Year: 2005
US date: 2011-05-10 (Stranger Than Fiction)
Website
Trailer

"Sorry we're late!" chirp Sam and Steven, coming home after a day at work. Greeted by their wife Samantha, they wonder, "Did you get the test yet?" Even before they begin explaining, you know: they mean the home pregnancy test.

The beginning of Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Love Story is at once conventional and not. On its surface, the introduction to this happy marriage of three people looks like a scene from a sitcom, the performances bright and the apartment space tight. At the same time, the 2005 film -- which screens 10 May at Stranger Than Fiction, followed by a Q&A with director Susan Kaplan -- is utterly upfront about its status as such.

In framing events and individuals in a storyline, the film makes visible their efforts to make sense, to name themselves and each other, to create a new sort of family. To this end, the documentary offers a series of episodes marked by captions ("Sam's brother") and title cards ("18 months later"). By the time you come to the film's end, and the film thanks Sam Cagnina, Steven Margolin, and Samantha Singh "for sharing the last eight years with us," you feel like part of that us. And not.

Maintaining this set of delicate tensions, Three of Hearts both respects and, to an unusual extent, reveals its subjects. While it's easy to see how they seemed remarkable and compelling subjects for a documentary, Sam, Steven, and Samantha are from the start very aware of the camera, speaking to it and performing for it. Again and again, they describe their situation and what they feel about that situation. As each recalls how they met, and how they decided to live as three, you see snapshots of their younger selves or home movie recordings with visible time-stamps.

These images convey both history and change, expectations and thought processes. "I'd been with Sam for seven years before we met Samantha," says Steven, adding that he'd been with both men and women before that. "It wasn’t a sex that I was capable of falling in love with," he says, "It was a person." For Sam, apparently, coming to a sense of his identity -- and his sexuality -- was more complicated. As he describes his childhood, the film shows a clip of Anita Bryant proclaiming that homosexuals "are not born that way, that they can be delivered through faith and trust in Jesus Christ." Sam reflects, "My mother said, 'I'd beat the shit out of you.' Oh my God," he sighs, "I could never tell anyone what was going on with me." The film cuts here, from Sam in interviewee's repose to a knife, chopping hard: it's Steven and Sam in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Sam goes on, remembering how he formulated the idea to himself: "Wouldn't it be great to have a woman in the relationship, who would fall in love with both of us?"

And so, Sam and Steven narrate, they tried more than once to "bring a woman into the relationship," not quite explaining, "It just didn't work" until they met Samantha. Following some discussion of the prospect, she says, she agreed to try it after she saw Wings of Desire. "This angel who comes down because he wants to experience love," she says, "I think in that night, I did he same thing. I went out there and tried something different."

And yet, all three suggest repeatedly that they were seeking something that was less different than the same... or rather, the same but better. Samantha remembers believing she'd met an ideal combination of men, one who was "reliable" and another who was "funny," and Sam helpfully demonstrates his role as the latter: "You can't call it monogamy, though, can you?" he asks, before conjuring a potential label: "Poly-gamy?"

As they laugh and smile and answer questions, they also have lives (including a thriving chiropractic and therapeutic massage business, set up in an office where all three have roles) as well as changing expectations. For the film's sake -- at least -- they sort through definitions, sometimes to assert their otherness but just as often to insist on their likeness to everyone else. They don't so much resist categories as they reassign them: when Samantha's sister Sabina describes her as a "tomboy" and Samantha calls herself a "princess" ("What woman wouldn’t want that, you know?"), Steven's sister Tami offers her version: "They'd buy her clothes and they'd buy her presents and they'd shop for her and, I mean, really took care of her, like you’ve never seen. And they did they treated he better than most men treat their wives."

Elucidating their choices and goals, Sam and Steven and Samantha begin to see themselves, and each other, differently. They enter into therapy, separately and together. They have a first child, Siena, and then a second, Summit. And as their "trinogomous" relationship changes, as it comes to a plainly difficult end after 13 years, they explain some more. Here the film doesn't change shape so much as it accommodates new separate self-articulations. The camera follows them through a new office (and aptly metaphorical construction problems), a new apartment, a new sense of each other. Perhaps most strikingly, they bring in a mediator to help establish "boundaries" and financial obligations. The camera follows behind as he walks from dining room to bedroom, to deliver conditions and rejections, as the three can no longer sit together in the same space. "I didn’t create this family," he tells them, "You guys did."

As it begins and ends on this note -- creating a family -- Three of Hearts underlines how the idea and the experience change over time. Strikingly, such changes have as much to do with trying to be "like everyone else" as with trying to be "different." Samantha reveals that she at first didn't say anything about the breakup she felt was coming because "I didn’t want to rock the happy boat." And Sam says, "I was trying to be as normal as I could be in the craziness of my life. Was Samantha a way of fitting in? I think there's some truth to that." Some truth, but not all of it. For all the revealing and performing and articulating in Three of Hearts, what seems clearest by its end is that truth is always shifting.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.