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Love Liza (R)
Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site
Director: Todd Louiso
Producers: Ruth Charny, Chris Hanley, Jeffrey Roda, Fernando Sulichin, Corky OíHara
Written by: Gordy Hoffman
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Sarah Koskoff

Rating: out of 5


Thereís something about suicide. Something about the quiet desperation involved, about the path that is taken and the hopelessness that is experienced to get to the point when death seems like the only way to make things better. Itís unnerving to think that itís possible for people to feel that bad off. And then, itís there, it happens, and the ones left behind wonder if they could have stopped it.

This guilt, this limbo of asking questions when you really donít want to know the answers, is the focus of Love Liza. The story follows Wilson Joel (Hoffman), recently widowed after his wife Lizaís out-of-the-blue suicide. Continuing his daily routine after her death, Wilson goes through the motions with a brave face while all the time self-pity and indefinably intense grief bubble just below the surface. Lizaís mother, Mary Ann Bankhead (Bates), wants Wilson to let her share the grief, her own guilt and loneliness being too much to bear alone. But Wilson pushes everyone away, preferring a solitary depression that he can somehow control.

Unable to sleep in his bed because the empty pillow next to his is just too much, Wilson begins to sleep on the floor, and on this first night, he finds a letter from Liza to him under her pillow. But he canít bring himself to open it. Not knowing whatís in it, in his mind, is much better than reading it and possibly discovering that he was to blame for her suicide, or worse yet, that his ignorance kept him from preventing it. He begins to carry it around everywhere he goes, knowing he should read it, but unable to tear into it. Mary Ann tries to convince him to read it, because sheís in the same place: She doesnít know what the hell was happening with her daughter, and itís killing her.

As a way to cope with his grief, Wilson turns to huffing gas fumes. It starts out with a tiny sniff from the open tank of a car next to the curb. Before long, heís progressed to filling up a gas can and soaking rags with the liquid and covering his face with them. One day, his boss, Maura (Koskoff) drops by, and, as a cover story to explain the prevalent odor of gasoline in his house, Wilson claims that he has developed a hobby in remote-control model airplanes. Before Wilson knows it, Maura has sent Denny (Kehler), a model airplane enthusiast, to connect with Wilson. To keep up his ruse, Wilson actually does develop the hobby, and finds it a welcome distraction and an excuse to do something beside think about the implications of that unopened letter. Between flying his planes and inhaling his gas fumes, Wilson feels like heís coping the only way heís been able to.

Philip Seymour Hoffmanís performance as Wilson is one of those actorly studies in the psychological fallout that accompanies severe tragedy. His devotion to the role is fearless, and he makes himself look shitty beyond repair with absolutely no self-consciousness. As his mother-in-law, Kathy Bates turns in another one of those somehow mannered yet affecting performances that have become her M.O. She does a great job at balancing Mary Annís conflicting emotions, giving us insight into the fact that she wants Wilson to deal, because if he canít, then she never will, but that she also needs her grief so that she can feel the void Liza left, which is her only way to preserve her. In Lizaís absence is the proof that she existed.

óCole Sowell

 

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...


Mike Doughty



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