***½/**** Image B Sound A- Commentary B+
starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Sarah Koskoff
screenplay by Gordy Hoffman
directed by Todd Louiso
by Walter Chaw Philip Seymour Hoffman is Dante and the slings and arrows of mendacity are his Virgil, chasing him through the inferno of his day to day. A remarkable actor at his frequent best when deserted by a lover, Hoffman in Love Liza is Wilson Joel, a man whose wife has just killed herself and left a sealed letter behind. It becomes his albatross, toted around unexamined, as Wilson descends on a spiral of juvenile addiction (gasoline huffing) and avoidance. He sleeps on the floor outside his bedroom and does his best to dodge his mother-in-law (Kathy Bates)--hiding the sharp odour of his addiction behind the lie of becoming a radio-controlled airplane pilot.
The winner of this year's Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance, Love Liza is funny and subtle, marked by a trust in silence and the simple effectiveness of a good soundtrack used well. The film hinges on the ambiguity of grief as a process that is both absolutely necessary and potentially destructive. The introduction of a ravaging addiction as Wilson's coping mechanism functions as a restoration of a kind of control to the process rather than brief surrender to entropy--it becomes absolutely necessary, and there's no question of its destructiveness. As Wilson befriends a genuine RC enthusiast Denny (a wondrously unaffected Jack Kehler), his new friend's understanding of Wilson's needs--particularly when coming to his defense at a Louisiana hobbyists' convention disrupted by the demented Wilson--functions as the film's spiritual and emotional centre.
The picture is about the noxious half-life and death of grief, its ending as suggestive of rebirth as it is of self-immolation--marking the belief that the process is one best defined by ambiguity. Directed by actor Todd Louiso and written by Hoffman's older brother Gordy, Love Liza is one of the stickiest films of the year, perfect in its pitch and execution save for the moment here and again where it slides into trickery and convention. An image of the bereaved mother grasping her dead daughter's last thoughts, perched on the edge of a tub at the end of a hall, though, is almost enough to forgive all sins.
Love Liza serves as an interesting correlative to P.T. Anderson's Punch-Drunk Love (and Cronenberg's Spider, and Jonze's Adaptation.) in that they all have as their exteriors, to some extent, the projections of their demented protagonist's interiors. Louiso's film finds itself firmly among the remarkable 2002 crop of sprung romances as involved with loneliness as with woo--that both Love Liza and Adaptation. close on a long shot of a highway doesn't suggest a quailing into optimism, but an acceptance of our helplessness on the horns of chaos. Melancholy and unpredictable, Love Liza is courageous and lovely. Originally published: October 25, 2002.
by Bill Chambers Arriving on a moderately gratifying platter from Columbia TriStar Home Video, Love Liza has been transferred to DVD from inconsistent source elements. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation looks battered during the wordless opening shot, but although the wear-and-tear quickly subsides, the image is occasionally beset by snowy grain--exempting the picture's 16mm inserts, of course, which are inherently, intentionally gritty. Colours are beautiful and intense, and shadows are detailed. Although the surround soundtrack is only Dolby 4.0 (rare is the new film that's not in 5.1), the extra channels go unmissed: this is one loud mix, which makes Love Liza's silent moments all the more conspicuous and disquieting; Jim O'Rourke's songs fill the room. Director Todd Louiso, screenwriter Gordy Hoffman, and star Philip Seymour Hoffman play nicely off each other in a feature-length commentary in which the film seems to reveal itself anew to the self-effacing trio, who revel in psychoanalyzing Love Liza's characters and, when you get down to it, defending them. Filmographies for (PS) Hoffman and Kathy Bates plus trailers for Love Liza, Adaptation., Big Shot's Funeral, and Punch-Drunk Love round out the disc. Originally published: April 27, 2003.