Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates
First, I have a confession. It is impossible for me to objectively review "Love Liza." Having experienced the suicide of my wife and followed a similar downward spiral (thankfully, not inhalants), this film is FAR too emotional of an experience for me to look at with any serious degree of objectivity.
This confession aside, I must express a tad bit of disappointment with the film. It is a film that had an obvious grand vision of where it was going, and it only partially achieved its goals. In many ways, it feels like a P.T. Anderson film...powerful imagery and episodic brilliance that doesn't always connect. This works with an Anderson film, because Anderson approaches the screenplay and even the technical aspects of his films from that same perspective. This film, however, cried out for "connection." In order to fully embrace the characters and sympathize with the situation, there needed to be more understanding...Why did Hoffman's wife suicide? Why does a seemingly intelligent, successful man use "huffing" as his primary coping skill? Why did his boss, in the midst of all this mess, confess "liking him?" I had numerous "Why?" questions throughout the film. As a survivor of suicide, I found it ultimately disturbing and traumatic to be left with so many unanswered questions.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman is utterly outstanding as the grieving widow...even with all the "Why?" questions, I found myself completely engrossed in his character. His energy, intensity...even his pauses were perfectly timed. Hoffman is one of my favorite actors, and this role is a tour-de-force for him. As his wife's mother, Kathy Bates gives another powerful performance. Bates is a wonderful balance to Hoffman in this film...where Hoffman bounces through rage and complete despondency, Bates drowns in resignation and grief. The scenes with the two of them together are heart-wrenching.
The film is the first directed by Todd Louiso (he was the "quiet guy" in "High Fidelity"). It's a nice first effort, though I couldn't help but wonder if a more experienced director could have brought this movie more into focus. Additionally, the script is by Gordy Hoffman (Phillip Seymour Hoffman's older brother). Sadly, I think the script is part of the problem here...too often, it traded cohesiveness and character development for dramatic moments and imagery.
Fans of Phillip Seymour Hoffman simply MUST see this film, and I'd also recommend it to anyone who has experienced a deep, unexplainable loss. Despite its inability to reach its lofty filmmaking goals, "Love Liza" is a wonderful example of the high quality films that can be created on a low budget. It was shot in 21 days, with a $1,000,000 budget. Here's hoping that other directors have the balls to give more lead roles to Phillip Seymour Hoffman!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic