Juliet is a musician from New York who misses her connecting flight to Aspen. Stranded for the night somewhere in Kansas, she heads out to a local bar, which fits every "red state" cliche in her mind. But despite her trepidation, she finds the place to be friendly and welcoming, despite a few questioning looks.
While learning how to line dance, she meets a handsome local winemaker named Luke. Sparks fly, despite their surface differences, and they connect and find they have more in common than they thought. When Luke asks Juliet on a real date, she comes up just not against her stereotypes about the "heartland," but her shell of self-protection.
Written and directed by Lauren Ciaravalli, this charming romantic comedy short has many of the beloved hallmarks of the genre, from the attractive, likable and engaging leads to easygoing banter to a charming "meet-cute" that puts two opposing forces in irresistible collision with one another. But it also looks at the role that contemporary political polarization plays in how we approach others, and how that affects relationships, making for a unique wrinkle in the search for true love.
Shot with an eye for both the Western grit of a bar in Kansas and the aspirational gleam of a possible romance, the storytelling works quickly and deftly to establish Juliet in a "fish out of water" scenario, humorously ticking off political cliches and Juliet's reactions to them at the start. The approach is broad by necessity, and we see both how Juliet is quick to judge the world and people around her. As she swipes through local dating possibilities on an app, she also sees how someone like her -- a big-city career woman from a blue state -- could be stereotyped as well.
It doesn't bode well for Juliet in terms of companionship, but somehow she manages to catch the eye of Luke, and the pair have an instant, electric combination of physical attraction and intellectual friction, both teasing and disarming one another upon meeting. Actor Shakira Barrera plays Juliet with a cosmopolitan appeal, along with a witty, acerbic demeanor that conveys not just her savoir-faire, but self-protection and cynicism about romance. Smart and sophisticated, her urbaneness also makes her quick to judge the unfamiliar milieu and people around her. As Luke, actor Brock Harris plays an easygoing confidence that gently challenges Juliet, but also has a largesse of spirit that extends appreciation and acceptance for Juliet herself. And best of all, he reveals a genuine hopefulness about love and relationships that surprises her. As they chat, both find they can be themselves with one another. When Luke asks for more, though, Juliet must challenge not just her stereotypes, but her defense mechanisms -- or perhaps risk giving up a shot at genuine love.
Playful, smart and entertaining, "Heart Land" could have easily fallen into its own stereotyping, but instead, it takes the more complex route of extolling the value of genuine curiosity and dialogue, both in love and in politics. Once Luke and Juliet look beyond their ideas of one another, they begin to know their real selves: the hopes, dreams, disappointments and struggles that everyone experiences, and the honesty and openness to both talk and listen. It's a testament to the film's own big heart and expansive spirit that it ends with viewers wanting to follow Luke and Juliet's journey further. Something has opened up for both, giving hope that two different sides can find common ground, much less love, in the future.