Love Liza (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner30/01/2003

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 89 mins

Perhaps in response to 9/11, there have been a lot of movies involving death and bereavement recently.

Last year The Son's Room and In The Bedroom depicted the devastating impact of a death in the family, and only last week we saw Jack Nicholson play an ageing widower in About Schmidt.

Now comes Love Liza, a low-key study of one man's unusual response to his wife's inexplicable suicide. Not the most feelgood of films then, but thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman's offbeat central performance it's well worth a look.

Hoffman has emerged as one of Hollywood's most watchable talents, which is odd considering he's limited himself to supporting roles. His strength, though, is to work with directors like Paul Thomas Anderson and the Coen Brothers, filmmakers whose quirky sensibilities chime nicely with his own.

Insubstantial Fare For Such Prodigious Talent

The good news is Hoffman makes the leap to leading man with considerable grace and aplomb. The slightly less welcome news is that Love Liza - scripted by Hoffman's brother Gordy - is a rather insubstantial vehicle for its star's prodigious talents.

The untimely death of his wife sends website designer Wilson Joel (Hoffman) into a numb funk from which he is powerless to emerge. Struggling to make sense of what has happened, Wilson turns to his mother-in-law (Kathy Bates) for support.

But his refusal to open a letter Liza left behind drives a wedge between them, forcing Wilson to seek solace elsewhere. This he does by inhaling gas fumes, an addiction he tries to hide by falling in with a community of remote-control model enthusiasts.

It's an unusual way to deal with grief, but Hoffman ensures we never lose sympathy for his sad, shambling, pathetic character. And his oddly intimate relationship with his model-obsessed brother-in-law Denny (Jack Kehler) provides vital shafts of humour that illuminate the gloom.

Nothing But Morose Befuddlement

The main problem is that Hoffman rarely projects anything other than morose befuddlement. It could be the petrol's fault, but you can't help wishing he'd show more animation and emotion.

However, the cathartic conclusion leaves a powerful and haunting impression without imposing the sort of tidy resolution we have come to expect from Hollywood's usual treatment of this issue.

You only have to think back to Kevin Costner's mawkish Dragonfly to realise how manipulative this quietly moving curio could have been had it fallen into less sensitive hands.

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Love Liza (15)
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Content updated: 18/10/2017 08:38

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