Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Alternate Best Actor 2002: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Love Liza

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Wilson Joel in Love Liza.

Love Liza is the type of independent film that kind of give independent films a bad name, about a man dealing with the sudden suicide of his wife.

That earlier statement comes just as it features the Indie tropes of some dark topic filtered through a semi-quirky spin then processed through a whole lot of repetitious nothing. That is what we have here that is a film that believes it is creating meaning yet falls into really acts of nothingness in its procession to a particularly obvious conclusion, though hey at least it doesn't have the as obnoxious tropes of no music, unearned long takes and or even less earned ambiguous endings. What the film does have an actor that I kind of hate to look back against because once again we lost him far too soon. Of course Philip Seymour Hoffman was an incredible talent, and this film is another example of that, even when then character of his Wilson Joel I don't think is the most well written he ever played. Hoffman though was a great actor, so he can at least fill in some of the gaps of the character even if he can't quite make the film work. We have the early scenes where Hoffman creates a certain daze the man is in from reeling from the sudden suicide of his wife. Hoffman vividly realizes this sort of early state that he makes nearly denial. This as he portrays Wilson still as able to basically function, but a bit off in just how well he can function. This in his moments of reacting to the happiness of others Hoffman delivers Joel's laughs too much, of a man trying to be happy, though there is an obvious failure in this. This in showing the front that cannot really hide the obviously trauma inside.

This quickly deteriorates, again I think a problem with the film is just in the writing never quite supports Hoffman enough, though Hoffman does well in portraying this deterioration. This in now granting a man less in a daze and more so in a fixation. A fixation on the death with a sadness in his eyes though also a focus as though he is trying to uncover the meaning of his relationship. This is a bit overly represented by the last letter from his wife that he refuses to open. This pain though Wilson quickly tries to cover up, in something that hits sadly too close to home regarding Hoffman's own story, as Wilson begins to engage in substance abuse by huffing gasoline fumes. Hoffman though is terrific in realizing these moments as basically a man trying to fill his head with anything other than his pain and return to at least some kind of daze. These scenes become a bit repetitive though, and sadly quirky, as he comes across different people asking about his fumes to which he lies about being interested in model planes. This adds up to nothing really, but Hoffman is good in presenting the very limited front he can muster through the daze to appease his slowly more suspicious onlookers, his co-workers and friends. Too much of the film basically sits on that idea as we just get scene after scene of Wilson getting high without really an effective progression in the narrative or further examination of the situation of character. Hoffman is still good in all these scenes mind you but they don't give him the most interesting material to work with.

The one relationship that does offer something more interesting is with his mother-in-law Mary (Kathy Bates). This as the two develop a great kind of anti-chemistry. I like that they are able to realize in their interactions between the two, not a dislike but rather just an indifference of two people who really didn't interact before much, now are connected in their mutual grief. Hoffman is great in these moments in the way he realizes Wilson's way of becoming even more physically withdrawn around her, as against creating that sense of the connection within the lack of connection. This until late in the film where it appears she's taken his memories of his wife including her last letter. This where we finally get a more cathartic release of emotions and Hoffman unsurprisingly delivers on the sheer intensity of the man's grief. This in showing the sudden rush of emotions of trying to reclaim the little he did have of her left. This until finally getting the letter and choosing to read it. Hoffman is legitimately outstanding in this scene in quietly reading each word and in that reflecting the heartbreak in every word. This though as she essentially tells him in the letter to move on, Hoffman wonderfully realizes every ounce of pain though with the sense of the very real love he shared for all the same. It's strong work from him, and though I won't hand wave it as a "of course it is", I will say in the end there was a certain detachment from me in viewing the film. This in the flaws of the film I felt kept Hoffman from being able to quite make the next step in terms of crafting a truly unforgettable portrait of grief. Although I won't call it a technical exercise on his own part, it felt that way by the particularly manufactured feeling elements of the screenplay. I can't criticize Hoffman himself, as he excels here, I only wish the material was fully able to support his own efforts.

19 comments:

Calvin Law said...

I would respectively disagree, I thought there was a lot more going on in here than just the usual indie stuff (although I might just be projecting so who knows?) and an easy 5 for me. In particular that final letter reading left me very teary eyed.

Calvin Law said...

Having said that I was VERY worried when reading the opening lines that he’d be like a weak 4 or even 3.5 due to the film’s weaknesses for you, so I won’t complain. Thoughts and ratings for Bates and the Dude’s landlord?

Lucas Saavedra said...

Interesting that this is his only 4.5

Matt Mustin said...

Terrible film, good performance.

Matt Mustin said...

Kathy Bates is the only other good thing about it.

Mitchell Murray said...

I haven't seen this film/performance, but I know exactly what Louis means when he talks about indie films that give the genre a bad name. I've just seen too many movies that try to be "quirky" or "offbeat" merely for the sake of being "quirky" or "offbeat", when a more realist approach would've been exponentially better.

As for Hoffman, well, what can I say that hasn't already been said? He was one of the best actors of his generation, and it's a terrible shame that he's no longer with us. May you be at everlasting peace, PSH.

Luke Higham said...

These reviews are coming much quicker than anticipated.

Louis: I'm glad you still gave him a 4.5.

Matt Mustin said...

I started up Better Call Saul again because I realized I had never watched past the first season and I didn't remember the details of it. Um...why did they keep bringing the Kettlemans back? Pointless, annoying characters, badly performed.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Bates - 4(Again like the sort of assumed relationship she strikes up with Hoffman. She's good in though overall creating the sense of grief in her character though that grief not disabling her like it does Hoffman's character. She finds it as the right underlying quality within her character, which she otherwise shows as someone able to maintain normalcy overall.)

Kehler - 3(I think he has a good comedic presence just in general, but I don't think he fits within the film overall. I'll give him credit though for not over playing his character's more eccentric moments too much however.)

Matt:

I agree actually, and don't feel the show hit its stride fully until season 3 (though I do think there are good things in the first two seasons), season 1 & season 2 have tonal problems with overly broad comic elements (or at least trying to be comic as I don't think they're funny at all), the Kettlemans and Mark Proksch's Wormald (incidentally hilarious in What We Do in the Shadows) being the worst offenders.

Emi Grant said...

On a Twitter poll from *the* BCS fan account, The Kettlemans won favorite minor character(s) by quite a fair margin, so I guess they have their fans. I never minded them really. Same with Wormald.

Matt Mustin said...

Emi: Well, that's ridiculous.

Emi Grant said...

Matt: I know, I'm still mad Ms. Nguyen didn't win.

Matt Mustin said...

And we're all in agreement that Marco was given way too much focus in the season 1 finale, right? Either that or not developed enough prior.

Emi Grant said...

Eh, in retrospective I certainly wouldn't have minded a bit more development from him, given the events of the season finale. I do love that episode, though.

Matt Mustin said...

Emi: Having just rewatched it, I liked it more than I did the first time around, but I still think it's weak as a finale. The final scene is *great*, though.

Emi Grant said...

Matt: Absolutely. I just wished they would have let Smoke In The Water play out throughout the rest of the credits.

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