Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts.
Roxanne, Del and Alice are deceptive and manipulative teenage girls, all three immediately in thrall to the handsome Cuban Father Romero when he arrives from Florida to teach at their Catholic school, Our Lady of the Hills. Roxanne seems to be most enthralled and is instantly attracted to the young and virile Father. But, after a night of furtive love-making, Roxanne convinces Del and Alice to conspire against him. Consequently, Father Romero
is cast out, forced to live on the fringes of society, consumed by the burdens of his sins.
Even as Romero remains angst-riddled over his fall from grace, he finds comfort in the slave religion of Santeria and its dark rituals of revenge. Romero remains obsessed with Roxanne, the unleashing of all
those closeted passions late one night transforming his existence forever. Alice, Del and Roxanne grow older, but their apparent Cincinnati affluence does little to hide their severe dysfunction, in part brought about by the secrets they’ve kept hidden along from all of the manipulative games they once played.
Alice is unhappily married to Thad, a successful dentist, yet torn apart by the fact that she cannot bear his child. Thad has fallen into an affair with his assistant, Amber, who happens to pregnant. When Amber’s no-good druggie brother Dillon appears back in town, it is clear that Alice, Thad and Amber will be plagued by unfinished business. Dillon’s befriending of the cruel Varik, an arrangement based on mutual need, fuels much of the hatred and vitriol that follows as the narrative accelerates ever faster toward fever-inducing mayhem.
Roxanne is now an artist specializing in weird sculptures of birds, living on the fringes of the social page society, her life a sudden catalyst for much of the chaos that ensues. Work and art are the only things that mean anything to Roxanne. Lost in the past, Roxanne’s dilemma is her rapidly fracturing relationship with Alice and her inability to pull Del back from the brink
- and from the darkness she feels closing in on her.
Poor, dependable Del is always trying just a little too hard. She aches to be the flawless suburban wife and budding socialite, married to the loving Jock with their perfect little daughter, Wendy. The descent into madness begins with a sudden suicide and Alice as she drifts into a bizarre self-obsession even as she falls
further into despair over Thad’s affair. Thad is slipping away, and Alice is powerless to do anything about it.
Her toughness eventually collapses into vulnerability, leaving her with nothing to cling to as she begins to take her fury out on
first Thad then on Amber.
It is inevitable that Romero re-enters the fray, abruptly bought back into the lives of Alice, Del and Roxanne, “afflicted with the temptation born of flesh and mind,” his soul in a desperate state while physically he begins to be eaten away by the sins he once committed and the ones now being committed by Varik. Wrapped in mystification, sensuality and violence, it is not surprising, then, that Romero’s “sins” and the girls’ naïve teenage manipulations eventually resurface with devastating consequences for everyone.
Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts is bleak and brutal, yet an always compelling account of people spiraling through a world of naked fantasy, self-delusion, and even murder. Its themes are the nature of desire and of the murky world of revenge, and also the price we must pay for believing in “sin”. While Romero slowly dies, his body becomes the food on which Varick’s own sins are feasted. Thad
and Amber, even Del, are in danger of becoming the sad collateral in a story that perpetuates a terrible sense of inevitability.