Love Liza (2002)

“Summer of Film #13 of 100”:
The only way I can talk about Love Liza is to talk about Philip Seymour Hoffman. In his films he seems to operate in one of two modes- there is the Hoffman (of say Owning Mahoney or Magnolia) that shrinks while on screen, that is so subtle, understated that you would not notice him if he wasn’t a character in the film. Then there is the larger than life Hoffman (of Punch-Drunk Love or Almost Famous that demands your attention every frame of every scene). This movie has him operating in the first of these two modes. The movie stars Hoffman as Wilson Joel failing to deal with the suicide of his wife. Failure is probably not an accurate way to describe it as there is barely even an attempt on his part to come to terms with what happened. This leaves us with a film that demonstrates the lengths to which a man will go to avoid closure.

Love Liza also stars Kathy Bates who, during her long career, has also operated in the two modes I described. She is Joel’s mother-in-law who has found that the only way for her to deal with the loss of her daughter is to help Joel grieve. The problem is that Joel has become a child; or at least wants the world to treat him as one. The dilemma facing everyone who knows him is- at what point do you tell a person who has experienced such a tremendous loss to cut the crap and get on with life.

In real life, this may be a difficult problem but Joel’s gasoline-fume filled self-destruction is enough of a sign for intervention. The movie is all Hoffman and he carries it’s weight well; the problem is that his apathy will make you want to reach in to the screen and shake him out of it.

Which is probably a good thing.


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