As I stood in line outside the Hot Docs screening of the Rick Springfield documentary An Affair of the Heart, I overheard the couple in front of me tell their neighbors they’d been following Rick Springfield around the world for 12 years. I remember thinking, “12 years? Really? For the guy who sang ‘Jessie’s Girl’?” Little did I know that was only a small taste of what was to come. When I got inside I couldn’t help but notice this was not your average documentary festival crowd. Where usually there are pale intellectuals, all around me were middle-aged women, eyes awash with excitement and in some cases, just about bursting with joy. I knew I was in trouble when the woman next to me declared she was going to faint and promptly burst into tears. Oh, and did I mention Rick Springfield was in attendance?

As I learned during the movie (what I could hear between the screams and catcalls form the audience), Rick Springfield has elicited this kind of emotion from his fiercely devoted fan base for 30 some odd years. To some of us he might seem like another mullet-sporting 80s pop footnote, but to a select group of dedicated fans, he’s a larger-than-life character who’s been a constant in their lives since they were teenagers.

Filmed in 2010 with the cooperation of Springfield and co., director/producer Sylvia Caminer‘s An Affair of the Heart is a surprisingly touching look at how the 80s pop star has impacted the lives of his fans through his music, and how they in turn have affected him. The doc includes enough concert footage to please any fan; interviews with Springfield, his friends and colleagues; and interviews with fans – most recounting how they overcame some sort of adversity with the help of his music. Many of these tales are surprisingly emotional. Part of me wanted to roll my eyes at first, but as time went on I found myself touched by the stories of how Springfield affected these people, and the relationships that were formed as a result.

There’s Laurie who recounts how his album “Working Class Dog” helped her recover from open-heart surgery when she was young. And how a meeting with him decades later finally helped her overcome her feelings of anger and self-pity. In another tough scene, an interfaith minister who was contemplating suicide after a vicious attack explains how she overcame her issues after identifying with the anger in Springfield’s music. (No, not “Jessie’s Girl.” There are other angry songs…)

But it’s not all tales of pain and adversity. Stay-at-home moms Sue and Joanne offer plenty of comic relief as they leave their families once a month to let loose at the Springfield event of the moment. Only when prodded does it come out that one of their husbands deals with issues of jealousy and competitiveness. But even so, watching the two of them hoot and holler at the aging rocker is ridiculously fun.

Then there’s Dustin, a teenage boy who’s been a Rick Springfield fan since he was a tot. One time, Springfield pulled him on stage at a concert. Since then, the two have stayed in touch and now they regularly jam together. In a really great scene, Dustin gets to perform on stage with his idol and it’s tough not to grin at the boy’s sheer happiness. There’s something about a musician who goes to such great lengths to please and get to know his fans that is immensely appealing. In fact, the movie makes Rick Springfield seem like a helluva nice guy – despite his flaws.

All-in-all An Affair of the Heart is a sweet movie. It’s a charming look at the devoted fans of a singer who hasn’t been on the charts in decades but still performs 80 to 100 shows a year. It’s a great love letter to his fans, and a great movie for fans of documentaries.

The Upside: Entertaining, fun and surprisingly sweet.

The Downside: You won’t be able to get “Jessie’s Girl” out of your head for hours afterwards.

 Full Hot Docs Coverage

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