SHE IS LOVE – Review by Rachel West

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Writer-director Jamie Adams’ latest film She Is Love is a directionless drama that squanders any potential it might have had. Failing to say anything new or even interesting despite the casting of capable actors Sam Riley and Hayley Bennett in the lead roles, the film feels more like a limp improv study with barely enough going on to warrant its scant 82-minute runtime.

Adams’ premise is promising: Patricia (Bennett) arrives at a remote country hotel in Cornwall where she discovers that her estranged ex-husband Idris (Riley) lives there, acting as the hotel manager. The lodging is owned and operated by Idris’ younger girlfriend Louise (Marisa Abela), whose real passion in life is acting.

Having not seen one another in a decade, there are myriad ways the two former flames need to catch up, potentially setting up a multitude of directions this story could take. Unfortunately, the path it chooses is the least interesting.

British filmmaker Adams takes the Mike Leigh approach of allowing his actors to work in broad strokes and shape their characters through rehearsal and their own improvisations. While this might be a thrilling challenge for Riley, Bennett, and Abela, it is frustrating for the audience to catch glimpses of what this story could have been under tighter direction and story. As the narrative progresses, it begins to feel like a poor substitute for Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy.

All three main characters are stuck in a state of unrealized dreams. For Patricia, her career ambitions and relationship leaves something to be desired while Idris is a failed musician clinging to his youth and past potential. Louise, who is the most confusing of all characters, is a stuck-up rich girl who is more interested in an acting career than running a hotel that one can only infer was some kind of inheritance for her.

Beyond throwing Patricia and Idris together in a remote hotel, there isn’t much narratively to speak of. After their initial awkwardness subsides, the pair catch up and recall the turns their lives have taken in the years following their failed marriage. Getting increasingly drunk, their conversations turn darker and more vulnerable as the underlying root of why their marriage failed comes to the surface. There is no grand reveal here, but merely the mundane problems that dysfunctional relationships encounter like stagnant careers and whether to have children. Even in a single location with minimal cast, the breakdown of a marriage and the reflection on the past can and has been done much better. Perhaps Adams should have directed his cast to study Stephen Daldry’s pandemic lockdown-set relationship re-evaluation Together with James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan or the more complex Scenes From A Marriage remake with Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac.

Bennett and Riley are good actors who can be compelling on screen, but She Is Love shows that they both need more direction and story than they are given to really connect with viewers. Together, they have chemistry and while the exploration of their backstory is promising, the dialogue seems forced and clichéd. Slowly opening up the wounds caused by their painful marriage delivers some intrigue but any momentum She Is Love gains is quickly lost due to the film’s construction.

Structurally, She Is Love makes little sense as scenes of Patricia and Idris randomly cut to unnecessary scenes of Louise preparing for an audition. Serving only as an excuse as to why Patricia and Idris are left to their own devices, the story would have been better served to not include her at all. Scenes drag on with the film’s editing abnormally paced, leading to some truly confusing juxtapositions. Together with the handheld camera and audio that feels like it needed another pass at sound mixing, the entire production comes across as amateur despite the best efforts by Riley and Bennett to really sell this concept.

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Rachel West

Based in Toronto, Rachel is a Senior Film Critic at ThatShelf.com. She has interviewed everyone from Michael Fassbender to Miss Piggy and has reported live from TIFF, the SAG Awards, Comic-Con, and the Golden Globes, among other events, and has contributed film writing and content to outlets including ET Canada, Telefilm, Global News, The National Post, Cineplex Magazine, and Letterboxd, among others. She is a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. Find her on Twitter: @rachel_is_here