Like its last rattle, death lingers and grief hurts. There is no easy, manual prescribed manner in which someone deals with the loss of a loved one, especially when that someone was the glue that held so much of a family together. Without them, the group tethers and frays, tensions become fraught and more volatile and while reconciliation is possible and the pains of loss will ebb with time, some families take longer to be pulled back together when that gravitational force is absent.
The film follows Suzanne (Andie MacDowell), introducing the audience to her just as her husband, Glenn (Gareth Williams) is beginning to succumb to his cancer diagnosis. Following his death we watch as she and her two sons Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd) a book editor in a relationship with Rebecca (Juliet Rylance), and Chris (James Adomian), the misfit of the family who’s trying to funnel his creative and impulsive energy into a fulfilling outlet. Following Glenn’s death causes the family to jettison themselves in increasingly curious and in some cases, damaging manners. Chris drinks away the pain of the loss, falling into a depression while Nicholas makes the frustrating rash decision to end his long-term relationship in favor of the younger Emilie (Dree Hemingway), one of his fathers prior students. Suzanne tries to find companionship, despite the disapproval she gets from her sons, Nicholas in particular who sees it as a betrayal of his fathers memory. Painful and heartbreaking while simultaneously joyous and celebratory, Love After Love is the ultimate love note to deep seeded dysfunction and familial bonds that tie us, no matter how abhorrent family members become.
Totally and refreshingly uninterested in telling a story of grief that compounds on the familiar, cinematic beats, director Russel Harbaugh has instead decided to aim for a more fly on the wall, scrap book mentality. Rather than follow the story in linear fashion we’re instead privy to flashes of moments, dropped into the story after leaps of time have taken place. We see Glenn briefly before his illness overtakes him, enough to get a sense of his spirit and of his and Suzannes unconditional love. That first dinner scene with all of their loved ones gathered is the warmest of them all but with lingering hints of despair laying dormant underneath. Glenn’s death didn’t cause the familial and relationship issues, but it was the catalyst that set them free.
Screenwriters Harbaugh and Eric Mendelsohn both experienced loss as prior to and as they were writing the screenplay and it shows with a rawness concerning death that isn’t often captured in cinema-there’s an ugliness that comes with the deterioration of body and mind that viewers don’t want to admit or bare witness to but is integral to the momentum of the film. The script also makes the decidedly intelligent decision to allow us to see some of the lows of the characters early in the film so that we don’t act under the understanding that Nicholas is acting terribly just out of grief.
Combining the scriptural sensebilities of Kenneth Longerhan with it’s attention to detail when it comes to loss and merging it with Alex Ross Perry visuals with it’s faded phootgraph hues, Love After Love is a beautifully immersive experience.
It’s brought further to live by fully embodied performances from the entire ensemble cast but none more so that MacDowell and O’Dowd, the latter of who delivers career best. MacDowell plays a character as biting as O’Dowd but with a well earned wisdom behind her words. She conveys her adoration of her sons even when her face is boiling over in anger over the latest embarrassment one of them have caused her. It’s a nuanced role that allows MacDowell to play with her innate likability in a manner the audience hasn’t seen before.
O’Dowd meanwhile drops any hint of the mischievous humor he displays with ease, instead crafting a performance that swells in its duality. For a large portion of Love After Love Nicholas is an unlikable, embittered and entitled man who makes terrible decisions and it’s a testament to O’Dowd that inspite of this he still manages to escape the film from being flatly unlikable. Instead he delivers just enough pathos, the pain behind his eyes clear as day, his words hiding simmering, double meanings and wears a smile on his face that is clearly on the verge of snapping in half into a straight snarl. It’s a beautiful and startling performance that (if you didn’t see Calvary or Of Mice and Men) hints at talents that haven’t yet been unearthed.
His first time full length feature film, Harbaugh has burst through the gates as a fully fledged and confident talent. Take for instance a sequence as we watch Suzanne wander a hotel after a one night stand. Harbaugh has the trust in his audience to play with the narrative and shows us that this isn’t Suzanne making one lone trek but instead it’s her journeying through multiple moments of isolation and of romance as the man she meets at the end is a different one that who began the sequence. We’re watching her evolve and move forward in her life and instead of dedicating an entire portion of the film to just her newfound dating life, Harbaugh abbreviates it, believing that what came before and what comes after is more important.
A film that undoubtedly stick with the viewer after its ended with it’s insightful truths about the human condition, Love After Love is the strongest showcase the Tribeca Film Festival has had in years, poising Harbaugh for a tremendous breakout. Strong in its resolve, lyrically composed and poetically captured, Love After Love reminds that death isn’t an end or beginning for those left behind, but a moment that defines what happens next.
For further Tribeca Film Festival 2017 coverage, click here.