Andrea Dorfman’s ‘Heartbeat’ hits the right notes

Andrea Dorfman's Heartbeat

Written and directed by Andrea Dorfman
Canada, 2014

The struggle to find oneself is painfully real. Such pilgrimages of discovery are made more difficult by uncertainty, anxiety, imposing friends, and lingering exes. You can find yourself stuck in a habit that isn’t quite unbearable, that teeters so near comfortable complacence that you don’t realize you’re suffering silently. We latch onto troubling relationships to avoid the reality of our trepidation, and fail to grasp the very real benefits of solitude.

Andrea Dorfman’s latest film, Heartbeat, beautifully discusses all these anxieties as they apply to our heroine, Justine, played by the enchanting Tanya Davis. In a manner that feels innately Canadian, Heartbeat combines Halifax’s charm, and beautiful nature, with Davis’ soulful poetry, to form a touching dialogue on the nature of loneliness, and the rewards of truly living.

Davis takes center stage as protagonist Justine Porter. Literally. The film opens with a severely stage-frightened Justine fainting at an open mic night just as she begins to strum her guitar. This blackout leads to a point in the present where she neglects her instrument, is sleeping with her ex boyfriend, listens dutifully to her pushy best friend, and works as a copywriter for a computer software company in order to support herself while she works on her music, which she’s neglecting. She lives in her deceased grandmother’s home, which remains virtually untouched since her absence, wears her clothes, and sleeps in her bed. It isn’t until a second breakup with her no-longer-boyfriend Ben (Stewart Legere) that she begins to think it may be time to reassess things.


The changes are subtle, but with small steps, one can cover large distances. She begins to pursue other romantic engagements, legitimately invests time in her passions, and timidly begins to wade into the life she wants for herself.

There’s an interesting fallacy being debunked in Heartbeat: the idea that being alone is a bad thing. Singledome and solitude are frequently misconstrued as four letter words, especially for young women. Dorfman tackles this backwards notion with tact and humor. Justine’s best friend Lorna (Kristin Langill) constantly berates her with a future world where Justine’s having her first child while Lorna has her second. There’s talk of setting her up, and “of course you’ll meet someone!” interspersed with Justine proclaiming how okay it is if she’s alone for a while. Her proclamations fall on deaf ears at first. Eventually, she is heard, and she hears herself.

The film lightly addresses the nature of self-defeat. Justine repeatedly puts herself down, and stands in her own way. Returning repeatedly to Ben only puts her in an irritating position of codependence that masquerades as independence. At times, she seems to fail to recognize the difference.

While Justine grapples with these notions of comfortable solitude, she pursues her dreams of becoming a musician, and her passion for creating. There comes a time when we have to decide who we are and what we want in life. However frightening and alien that process may feel, it’s integral to push ourselves forward. Without that growth, we flounder and suffocate.

“Life will give you meaning the more sincere you live it.” – Tanya Davis

The performances are imperfect at times. Stewart Legere, Kristin Langill, Jackie Torrens who plays Justine’s boss Louise, and Jim Henman who plays her musician friend/music storeowner Arlo, tend to deliver their lines with a strange heaviness. While the dialogue is moving, it’s at times clumsily written.

Davis’ performance, though inexperienced, is earnest and charming. She lulls and soothes you with her music, then ensnares you with her warmth. She’s entirely captivating to watch.


On top of the whimsy and charm of Davis’ poetry, and Dorfman’s script, the film is peppered with Dorfman’s equally fantastically animations. Through elegant prose, animated birds sweep across painted canvases while caged hearts beat ferociously. Moments of stoic introspection provide the backdrop for colourful fall leaves to sweep across the screen. Portraits blink, while the electric buzz of inspiration illuminates a halo around our protagonist.

Heartbeat feels the way you imagine home to be – warm and inviting, engulfing and encouraging. Dorfman has created a beautifully relatable story of finding yourself in the scariest of places – yourself.

— Ariel Fisher

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