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Love Liza (15)



Review: Jack Foley | Rating: 2

ONE of Hollywood’s most under-rated actors gives a tour-de-force performance in Love Liza, a film which takes the difficult subject of bereavement and manages to turn it into something tremendously affecting - if a little inaccessible in places.

Philip Seymour Hoffman has made a habit of delivering scene-stealing support turns in movies such as Almost Famous, The Talented Mr Ripley and Magnolia, but here is given the chance to shine, hogging the screen in a movie which, in the hands of a lesser performer, may have seemed like a complete waste of time.

Set somewhere in middle America, Lova Liza finds Hoffman’s Wilson Joel, a successful website designer, attempting to come to terms with the death of his young wife, Liza, who took her own life.

Attempting to make sense of what happened, Joel finds a letter from her but refuses to open it for fear of shattering his ideal of the perfect life they shared. It is a decision which places a strain on his relationship with his mother-in-law (Kathy Bates) and which drives him to the desperate act of gasoline sniffing.

Sound like fun? Far from it, yet Love Liza expertly treads a fine line between black humour and sentimentality without ever feeling the need to become heavy-handed or overbearing.

A lot of this is due to Gordy Hoffman’s polished script (Gordy is Philip’s brother), while Todd Louiso’s offbeat direction also helps to ensure that proceedings seldom get on top of you (Louiso is better known as the quieter shop employee in John Cusack’s High Fidelity).

The film is certainly offbeat and unlikely to find a mainstream audience, but for those willing to give it a look, there is plenty to admire.

Hoffman, especially, is towering and wallows in the limelight afforded to him, rising above the difficult material to present a character who is as sympathetic as he is, occasionally, frustrating.

His addiction to gasoline continually threatens to undermine the breaks he is offered by those that care for him, while his newfound love of remote control models forces him to forge an unlikely friendship with Jack Kehler’s fellow enthusiast, Danny, who could posibly help him to unlock his grief.

Bates, as Joel’s equally confused mother-in-law, is also back on form and the scenes between her and Hoffman really crackle with intensity.

Love Liza won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival (a strong indicator of the year’s best independent releases) and remains an accomplished and challenging piece of work for all concerned.

It’s answers may not make for comfortable viewing, but for Hoffman alone, this remains worth seeing.

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