Hungry Hearts is a siege thriller in a relationship drama’s clothing. Despite the pretense that director Saverio Costanzo makes of examining the behavioral textures of a newlywed couple challenged by differing views of how to raise their child, his interests truly reside in goosing the audience with gross imperiled-child tactics characteristic of Fatal Attraction. The film, in fact, resembles a blend of Fatal Attraction and Kramer vs. Kramer. Those domestic thrillers concern legitimate forms of emasculation, spurred when a man’s ironically denied the ability to act as a mother, though in greatly simplified contexts that are tethered to sensationalized controversies du jour. In Hungry Hearts, the devil-woman is Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), a New Ageist lunatic who starves herself and her child out of a paranoid distrust of food and antibiotics, connecting the film to debates over parents’ resistance to vaccines. Mina’s husband, Jude (Adam Driver), attempts to reason with her for an infuriatingly long while, watching his family waste away, until taking actions into his own hands after the authorities predictably refuse to evince any understanding or acknowledgement of the looming disaster in front of them.
The audience is held hostage, impotent, as Mina grows crazier, thinner, and more manipulative, forcing her family to close themselves off from society. The interminable second act is a redundant series of variations of one scene: Mina paces around the couple’s cramped NYC loft, her eyes in perpetual hostile slits, holding her baby to her chest, chastising Jude for the gall he displays in insisting that their child eat. Mina hisses to Jude that he’s a piece of shit, and he weathers it, and weathers it, and weathers it. Soon, Jude’s sneaking his baby off to feed him protein at a local church, which Mina occasionally detects, force feeding the child an oil that will block his ability to absorb the nutrients. At least Fatal Attraction is well-engineered and forthright about its mean-spiritedness. Costanzo hypocritically drapes his scenes in a cloak of faux-empathy, building the audience’s blood to a boil, letting the boil die down with a brief acknowledgement of Mina’s pain, then repeating as necessary until a moment when Jude snatches the child from Mina and inadvertently knocks her over, cutting her head against a doorway. One’s response to this brief violent release is disturbingly electric, casting a stark light on just how much we’ve grown to despise Mina, who’s played by Rohrwacher with an unwavering sense of one-note hysteria.
Driver’s characteristically exceptional, though Costanzo admittedly serves the film to him on a platter, as he’s the only element in the film to which one can positively respond. Hungry Hearts’s echoing of Kramer vs. Kramer further explicates Driver’s already pronounced resemblance to a number of 1970s acting legends, including Dustin Hoffman. Like Hoffman and Al Pacino in their heyday, Driver is emotionally startling in every scene of the film. The actor has a particular gift, honed on Girls, in which he allows you to see the damage that his anger wreaks on himself, in addition to whoever’s on its receiving end. There’s one particular scene, in which a doctor first explains to Jude just how abusive his baby’s current living conditions are, that fully justifies the film’s relentless, stultifying horror tactics. Jude’s eyes, clearly on the verge of tears, offer a devastatingly empathetic acknowledgement of every parent who’s allowed an untenable situation to flourish out of their control.