There's no question that having a 5-time Emmy winner in your debut feature is a tremendous gift. Such is the gift with writer/director S.E. DeRose's indie romantic drama Charming the Hearts of Men, a period drama set in the 1960s South and centered around Grace Gordon (Anna Friel). Grace is the daughter of a prominent smalltown judge who returns to her home following his unexpected death only to find that the family estate is nearly in foreclosure and the once wealthy family's bank accounts are also bone dry.
Determined not to let the gleeful banker run away with an estate that has been in her family for generations, Grace sets out to make an income only to run up against a culture where women's rights weren't yet a thing and making ends meet usually meant getting your husband's permission.
This doesn't set well with Grace.
Charming the Hearts of Men is a fairly straightforward period drama, a film that possesses a continuous retro vibe and a film that paints a rather glossy picture of Grace's journey through the South's institutionalized sexism as she works to support legislation that will begin the long road to empowerment for women.
Along the way, Grace dips her toes into the local dating pool with mostly hilariously awful results. The exception is with the area's Congressman, ably portrayed with dignity and empathy by the aforementioned 5-time Emmy winner - Kelsey Grammer. Grammer is definitely one of the film's highlights here. He could easily coast through a role such as this one, though Grammer's a sporting chap and he gives it all he's got here.
The film is all the better for it.
Anna Friel is an absolute gem as Grace, whose expectation for equality is painted broadly yet convincingly here and Friel brings it all nicely to life. Friel's scenes with Tina Ivlev are easily among the film's highlights.
Sean Astin shines as a local pawn shop owner who does what he can to help Grace out of her tough spot. Jill Marie Jones and Starletta DuPois shine as two of the estate's housekeepers. Truthfully, one of the strengths of Charming the Hearts of Men is its fine ensemble cast and there's not really much of a weak link anywhere. I found myself particularly taken by Tina Ivlev's Ruth.
Lensing by Gavin Struthers is effective throughout while Mark Orton's original score reminds us of his under-appreciated gems from films like Nebraska and Sweet Land.
Picked up by indie distributor Gravitas Ventures for a limited theatrical release and subsequent VOD journey, Charming the Hearts of Men is an enjoyable, engaging romantic drama with hints of social justice and a better world for everyone. While one can't help but wish that restaurateur turned filmmaker S.E. DeRose had pushed the envelope just a bit more, this is a confident, entertaining debut and I can't help but look forward to seeing where she goes from here as a filmmaker.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic