“She Is Love” – For better or worse [MOVIE REVIEWS]
Exhausted from her work and international travels, Patricia receives a phone call boost from her partner. He wishes her well but doesn’t have great news. All of her hotel choices are unavailable but he’s found her a charming Inn in the English countryside. It will be perfect for her much needed rest and relaxation before returning home to New York. It doesn’t bode well that the front door is locked or, even worse, that she’s finally greeted by “We weren’t expecting anyone.” Lugging her own suitcase up the steep stairs, she collapses on the bed. She nods off almost immediately only to be awakened by cacophonous music from below. Dragging herself down to where the music is, she peaks in the door and immediately closes it trying to escape unnoticed upstairs. Too late.
In a salute to Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” Patricia has been inadvertently booked into the hotel her ex-husband Idris runs with his girlfriend Louise. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world,” she walks into his. There is no escaping this awkward moment as both will relive their past relationship and where it went wrong. Louise is eventually apprised of Patricia’s identity, and although uncomfortable, she has an acting audition to prepare for.
Patricia and Idris have grown up since their volatile marriage ended ten years before. They are both in safer relationships; she with a readymade family with her older partner and his children; he, disconnected enough from Louise to concentrate fully on his music. It becomes obvious very quickly that what both are missing from their present arrangements is passion. But maybe that is by design because both have wounds that are still raw. Idris is calmer, more rational now. Patricia notices immediately that he is no longer drinking. He’s proud of his sobriety. It removes another distraction from his professional life. Except…Soon after they sit down together, reminiscing about old times, hashing it out would be a better description, he pours them both drinks.
What went wrong? There are hints but it is clear that in trying to escape their past, they’ve both become rather predictable and ordinary. Each digs at the other. They understand why it ended; they understand why they veered in the opposite direction; they don’t understand their continued attraction.
Her business career has flourished and she lives a life of luxury and apparent domestic tranquility in New York with an older partner and his children. She has the family she always wanted but didn’t have to put in the initial sweat equity. He has a beautiful actress wife who allows him the alone time to work on his musical career, more successful and now on the cusp of breaking through.
More alcohol, more confessions, more awkwardness as Louise is pushed more and more to the background. Like “Private Lives,” both ex-partners have more in common, more passion, and more connection than their steady, rather unchallenging present attachments. But is that enough to rekindle? Is it enough to upend their now comfortable lives? Director/writer Jamie Adams leaves that for us to decide or project. The ending is rather ambiguous. It is up to you to weigh the factors as they are laid out. What would you do in the heat of the moment or with a clear head? Do you exchange what you have for what you gave up? Isn’t that what romance is all about?
The questions Adams asks are all interesting but the execution is somewhat muddled. For me, it was never clear what the original attraction was because I didn’t feel an emotional spark between Idris and Patricia. Some of this may relate to the cool detachment of Haley Bennett, the actress playing Patricia. There never seems to be a sense of wonder at the randomness of the universe that placed her back in a room with the man who broke her heart. Passion is the undercurrent but it’s not present in her emotional portrayal, only in the lines she speaks. Sam Riley, Idris, is a bit better at showing us the chaos behind the facade, but he jumps too quickly off the wagon when merely confronted with Patricia’s presence. There didn’t seem to be a trigger that set off this action so immediately. Marisa Abela as Louise has a rather thankless task. Drop dead gorgeous, she plays an actress whose self-focus is complete. It makes sense that she is with Idris, the almost rockstar arm candy to complete her picture. Her laissez-faire acceptance of Patricia’s presence is confusing. Patricia, who ignores her, should be a real threat but this doesn’t come across. Intellectually we understand what might happen between Idris and Patricia with Louise off to the side. What’s missing is the tension. Too bad because the story, told in the beautiful countryside, showed promise.
Opening February 3 at the Laemmle Glendale and on VOD platforms.