Warning: do not ask your spouse (or your friend or your kid or your brother) if they’re happy unless you’re really, truly prepared to hear the answer. Unless you’re certain the relationship, and your heart, can survive honesty. Happiness is a tricky thing, perhaps overvalued, perhaps not, but certainly contentious, perhaps elusive, always sought-after.
Brothers Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd) and Chris (James Adomian) are dealing with the death of their father, which was a rough one (or are they all?). Grief never exists in a vacuum. Death doesn’t wait for marriage, divorce, career, or even nervous breakdowns. It doesn’t wait to be convenient. Grief gets woven into the pastiche of life and it’s hard to watch these two mostly lovable guys flail about. But in some ways it’s even harder to watch their mother (Andie MacDowell. Andie MacDowell!) try to cope. She’s too young to be a widow and too vibrant to just curl in on herself. And too concerned about her children to not say what’s on her mind. Grief doesn’t make you a better person.
Love After Love is a bold movie that refuses to put on a brave face. There are no easy answers and no Hollywood endings. Grief changes a person, distorts a family dynamic. It can be ugly and it can be cruel, and director Russell Harbaugh savours those moments like they’re precious, and I suppose in some essential way, they are. The film feels loose and untethered; a series of family gatherings reveal their struggle to return to stasis. It’s as messy as they are, and seeing these emotions portrayed so honestly and unflinchingly is bleak of course but refreshing – I almost felt a sense of relief to not have to buy into the normal Hollywood tropes.
The cast is wonderful because they’re fearless. I have loved Chris O’Dowd since I first laid eyes on him and in the past few years he’s shown incredible range (though I tend to believe that if you can do comedy, you can do anything – not true in reverse). But I’m also super glad to see Andie MacDowell because we never get enough and she’s as underrated as they come. Together, the three of them reflect an authentic experience that can be hard to watch because it feels personal. This kind of unraveling is meant to be private, or at least that’s what the death rites in North American tell us, and it makes us uncomfortable to witness it. This film delivers some very raw performances and if you can maneuver around the emotional minefield, I think you’ll be quite pleased that you did.