Since playing Hannah’s boyfriend in ‘Girls’, Adam Driver has become cinema’s go-to guy for a hipster, goofy-sweet love interest. Possibly aware of the risks of being typecast, Driver reveals his serious side in this claustrophobic, psychological indie drama set in New York. Think of ‘Hungry Hearts’ as ‘Rosemary’s Baby: the Organic Version’ – it has a vat of creepy horror bubbling under the surface. It’s unsettling, but it also slips into far-fetched silliness at the end, and it may leave you with a nagging feeling that there’s something slightly dodgy and unfeminist in its portrayal of an unstable woman.
The woman is Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), an Italian living in New York, and the film opens with a funny-awkward, love-at-first-sight meeting when she walks into the tiny bathroom of a Chinese restaurant. The door jams shut behind her. Some pretty foul smells are wafting from the loo, inside which engineer Jude (Driver) has got a nasty case of food poisoning. Mortified to find himself locked in a bathroom with a cool pretty girl and his own violent odours, Jude cracks a lame joke or two.
The beginning of their relationship passes in a haze of images: Mina and Jude in bed; Mina peeing on a pregnancy test; a bump; Jude serenading Mina on their wedding day with a stunned face, like he can’t believe his luck. Mina is a vegan, and there’s a hint she may have a history of eating disorders. Morning sickness triggers a delusion; Mina believes the vomiting is her body’s way of detoxing pollution and toxins in food. She’s barely eating, and in a tense scene a doctor warns Mina she could harm her unborn child.
Things don’t improve once the baby is born. At seven months, their little boy is malnourished, under-developed and has never been outside. ‘Trust what I feel,’ Mina says, and Driver skillfully and sensitively handles Jude’s growing unease. He's a nice guy, torn desperately between his wife and the health of his baby. Rohrwacher too, is refreshingly natural, giving a subtle, unshowy performance.
What follows is a battle of wills. Jude sneaks out of the flat to feed his son slices of ham in a local church. Mina fills the baby with health-food oils to stop him absorbing vitamins. It’s incredibly tense, but director Saverio Costanzo loses his grip, ending his film frantically and unconvincingly. Should it matter that ‘Hungry Hearts’ is written and directed by a man, based on a book written by a man about a woman going mad? Possibly not. But there may be a case for this whole project being a reflection of men’s darkest fears of women.