She Is Love

She Is Love

2023, NR, 82 min. Directed by Jamie Adams. Starring Sam Riley, Haley Bennett, Marisa Abela, Rosa Robson.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Feb. 3, 2023

The fear of a bump-in with the ex. It’s why we steer wide of a certain bar, a corner store, a street. In the case of Patricia (Bennett), a New York talent scout on a business trip in England, she probably should’ve avoided a whole city altogether. But circumstances force her to spend a couple nights in Cornwall, where she was once married, and the cruel winds of fate place her ex-husband, Idris (Riley), a washed-up DJ, at the same B&B. Oh, and his pretty, twentysomething girlfriend Louise (Abela) is there too.

That is a crackerjack setup, but crackerjacks do not a meal make. She Is Love is more like a situation in search of a compelling storyline. It’s written and directed by Jamie Adams, a prolific British indie filmmaker who’s consistently managed to attract talented actors to his projects. (I’ve only previously seen his limply comedic 2015 film Black Mountain Poets.) She Is Love’s end credits acknowledge “additional material” by the cast, and I suspect a vigorous rehearsal process helped shape the characters’ inner lives and their out-loud interactions. Problem is, that background and intention don’t always migrate onscreen, rendering character motivations a mystery. Without a strong spine, the film moves slackly adrift from room to room and various character combinations that vibe awkward then vicious then drunk and horny.

Still, you can see why actors would be drawn to this kind of showcase for their range, and Adams really does have a terrific trio to work with. A decade-and-a-half removed from his breakout role playing Ian Curtis of Joy Division in Control, Riley subverts his often killer-cool persona to play an artist on the other side of fame – overtanned and hanging on to the relics of his youth, not realizing that grasping only ages him. Cowed by Patricia and Louise alike, his Idris is like a little boy drawn to women who can level him with a look. Abela in particular has a withering one (check out her work on HBO’s Industry; she also stars in the upcoming Amy Winehouse biopic), but her part takes a backseat to the central push-pull between Idris and his ex-wife. Bennett is a gale-force wind, as unpredictable and inexplicable as a weather event. (Her accent is just as confounding.) I couldn’t tell you why she and her director decided this seemingly successful professional should act like a complete maniac, but by the time she’s smeared in commedia dell’arte-inspired face-paint, I stopped questioning it. She’s stunning.

The actors commit. They dig in and they dig deep. The handheld camera is chosen on purpose – the better to convince us this is real life, right? Forty minutes in, that camera gently skitters around Idris and Patricia; they are reminiscing, they are drinking too much, they are getting too close. They get up and dance, and Adams does something interesting. He replaces whatever song they’re bopping up and down to with a spare piano score. He slows the tempo of the action down, and he makes thoughtful shot selections, honing where the audience fixes its gaze. We’re not thinking about the song; we’re watching how these two move and parsing what it means.

Five minutes later, Adams ruins the effect, putting Louise in a dance scene of her own. She’s in a bedroom, getting dressed, stewing over what’s going on with her dumb boyfriend and his crazy ex. She puts on a sexy little number – it’s Brigitte Bardot cooing “Moi Je Joue” – and dances around. Only this time it’s cut like a music video: Here’s Louise on her feet, shimmying at a mirror. Here she is gyrating on the floor. Now she’s in the bathroom doorway. Now she’s on the floor again. Intellectually, we know we are watching a series of takes spliced together. Emotionally, it ruins the feeling of continuity, that we are catching something raw and intimate. For a movie that’s ostensibly about scratching at real feelings, it comes off as phony as a perfume ad.

Available on VOD now.

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She Is Love, Jamie Adams, Sam Riley, Haley Bennett, Marisa Abela, Rosa Robson

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