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      Love Liza
    Good grief

    Movingly acted by Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Love Liza" tells the story of a man who struggles to go on living after losing his wife to suicide, its sense of sorrow balanced by just enough unexpected humor.


    With prices at the pump recently hitting their highest in years, it's a wonder Wilson Joel can afford to feed his noxious habit in "Love Liza."

    Wilson, an in-demand website designer, keeps a supply of unleaded on ice, constantly dousing a rag with the four-star stuff and holding it tight over his nose until the fumes invade his consciousness, numbing his senses and dispelling the pain he's suffering after the suicide of his wife Liza. It's obvious that this is Wilson's way of dealing with this most personal of tragedies — or one of the ways.

    Directed by: Todd Louiso.
    Written by: Gordy Hoffman.
    Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Sarah Koskoff, Stephen Tobolowsky, Jack Kehler..
    Cinematography: Lisa Rinzler.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Lately Wilson has also taken to sleeping on the floor outside the unopened bedroom door. It feels right for him. "Look Mary Ann, I found a place to sleep and that's all," he tells his mother-in-law when she comes to help him pull himself together. "I know it's a stupid place, but it's the place I found."

    But when he pulls a pillow from his bed for temporal comfort he discovers a note from the late Liza — "a suicide note from my wife" as he refers to it thereafter. But he's unable to open it for fear of what it might reveal about him. Liza's mother (Kathy Bates), who is clearly fond of Wilson, covets the note, hoping for a glimmer of understanding as to why her daughter took her own life. But as Wilson points out, the letter is not addressed to her.

    Philip Seymour Hoffman, in his first real starring role, is uncannily precise as Wilson. It helps immeasurably that Hoffman's puffy, dim-looking countenance (he should close his mouth more often) looks like it belongs to a guy who's been huffing high-test from the get-go. This is a difficult role, yet Hoffman makes his dreary drug addict sadly human.

    Wilson's boss Maura (Sarah Koskoff) pops over to see Wilson one day after work and, not surprisingly, detects a strong smell of gas from inside his house. Wilson covers up his addiction by pretending he's a model enthusiast and before you know it he's paid a visit by Maura's brother-in-law Denny (Jack Kehler). This sets up a humorous descent into the bizarre world of radio control freaks (aka hobbyists). When Maura later makes a pass at Wilson he panics and bolts, a gallon jug of pink model airplane fuel in the passenger seat beside him, running away to the beaches of New Orleans (until someone points out there aren't actually any beaches in New Orleans).

    It's an eccentric screenplay to be sure (written by Hoffman's older brother Gordy as it happens), but it's well crafted and allows its leading man to truly get inside his character. It's not a totally depressing film. Gordy Hoffman's screenplay is laced with comic scenes and situations, especially whenever Denny is around with his remote-controlled boats and banter. But it's rather uncomfortable watching our protagonist sniffing the gas as frequently as he does, or "driving by convenience stores that aren't even on the way home" to borrow a favorite movie quote. But why? Wouldn't one approved container last pretty much a lifetime?

    "Love Liza" is directed by Todd Louiso. If the name sounds familiar it's because Louiso played Dick, the mild-mannered Championship Vinyl employee in "High Fidelity," i.e., not the vulgar one played by Jack Black. This is only Louiso's second film (his first was a 15-minute version of "Hamlet") and it shows remarkable maturity in the way it balances humor against the true pain of loss. But credit has to go to Philip Seymour Hoffman, of course, who carries the piece and makes what might have been an otherwise unbearable film oddly gratifying.

    MARCH 5, 2003

    Reader comments on Love Liza:

  • Movie tried too hard   from James Cheatham, Jul 31, 2003
  • edit, edit, edit   from Rachel, Sep 15, 2003
  • Re: edit, edit, edit   from Ken, Oct 9, 2003
  • Re: edit, edit, edit   from David, Oct 11, 2003
  • BEST ACTOR   from doc, Nov 14, 2003
  • Wow..   from carol, Jan 15, 2004
  • Love Liza and the recent "Half Nelson"   from Sammish, Oct 9, 2006
  • From a real person who lived it   from G. Sorkin, Sep 15, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Love Liza"