Love After Love (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of unflinching, character-driven drama will find plenty to love here.
In her long and storied career, this is Andie MacDowell's finest performance. Chris O'Dowd also has never been better from a dramatic standpoint.
Russell Harbaugh's debut as a director is a noteworthy achievement, his ability to draw out pain, truth, and depict the shambles a family's loss can cause people is, at times, stunning.
This is a tough watch at times, and may hit close to home for some folks.
Because these are folks struggling with grief and unspoken issues, at times these are characters who do not always look warm and fuzzy. They make mistakes. They are flawed. And audiences are not accustomed to seeing that in most of the films they watch.
The one main issue with the film, despite its 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes, would be that, in the end, we button everything up a little too clean and neat.
With a churning, kneading sense of purpose hanging over each significant character, Love After Love gives us a drama borne out of the basic human need to matter, but also to feel love. First-time director Russell Harbaugh has delivered a powerful essay on how grief can have far-reaching and lasting effects, well beyond anyone’s expectations or understanding.
Very soon after the film begins, the family dynamics shift significantly. Suzanne (Andie MacDowell) and husband Glenn (Gareth Williams) are hosting a dinner party for family and friends and Glenn appears to be in poor health. Their two sons, Nick (Chris O’Dowd) and younger brother Chris (James Adomian), are affable, in good spirits, but soon we see their worlds fall apart when Glenn is seen infirm, bed-ridden, and unable to take care of himself.
Harbaugh, who co-wrote the film with Eric Mendelsohn, crafts a narrative that gives us scenes scattered over a period of several months. We learn that Nick’s girlfriend Rebecca (Juliet Rylance), has been replaced in the weeks after Glenn’s death, with another girl Nick has been seeing, Emilie (Dree Hemingway). Almost impulsively, they are engaged, and Nick and Rebecca’s uneasy crossing of paths at work is a source of disquieting, tempered tolerance.
For Chris, he turns to alcohol and drinks to excess, causing disruptions at family functions and causing everyone to worry about his state of mental health following his father’s passing.
Suzanne is guarded in the weeks following her husband’s passing. Almost under the radar, she begins exploring relationships, and quietly has a few dates until she finds a nice, single father she connects with, in Michael (Matt Salinger).
Love After Love is a movie that finds a family broken and too proud to admit they are hurting and wounded. Harbaugh and Mendelsohn have written excellent characters, and the performances from MacDowell and O’Dowd are impressive and perhaps each actor’s finest work to date. There is a simmering tension between mother and son that Harbaugh never explicitly explores, but sprouts through the surface more often than either would readily admit.
A movie like this can be difficult to watch, as everyone significant to the film is in a state of emotional unrest and disruption. However, there are not a lot of films unafraid to show how grief and sadness can grow and spread like wildfire, when families or individuals are unsuspecting of its immense power. At the beginning of the film, a family sits together, tethered to one another, that strength seemingly able to hold together struggles or deficiencies. When Glenn dies, everything unravels so quickly, everyone is left holding frayed sections of the same rope, wondering what just happened, struggling to express what they are feeling.
I was quite impressed with Love After Love, and admired Harbaugh’s ability to steer us through a series of vignette-style scenes and not leave us thinking we have missed a bigger story. Nick may be self-destructing, Suzanne may be already looking for love, and Chris may be lost, but we always have a keen sense of knowing the pain and anxiety these characters feel is complicated, messy, and very real.
Arriving in theaters and VOD, almost a year after debuting at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, Love After Love may live in a state of anguish and despair a bit too comfortably for some viewers, but a terrific cast and the emergence of a new director who trusts his audience and actors equally, makes this one of 2018’s best cinematic surprises.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Andie MacDowell, Chris O'Dowd, James Adomian, Juliet Rylance, Dree Hemingway, Gareth Williams, Francesca Faridany, Matt Salinger, Romy Byrne.
Director: Russell Harbaugh
Written by: Russell Harbaugh, Eric Mendelsohn
Release Date: March 30, 2018