Review by Jacquelin Hipes
Some might think of grief as an isolated emotion. A pinpoint of feeling, powerful but fleeting, vanquished either by a bit of time or concentrated effort. Love After Love burrows into the reality of mourning, where new flaws emerge from the loss and old ones are exacerbated. When a husband and father dies, his family must move forward with his absence as best they can. Wife Suzanne (Andie MacDowell), who tended to him during a debilitating illness, exudes a characteristic poise. Where before her husband functioned as the binding element, she now serves as anchor and mediator. One caustic outburst warns that outer composure does not always signal inner peace but Suzanne is largely circumspect about foisting her grief onto either of her adult sons.
Perhaps that stoicism works against her when she finally eases her way back into dating. The effort rankles her eldest son Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd) in particular. Nicholas indulged his own struggles following his father’s death: cheating on his girlfriend, only to propose, then permanently meander back to his prior dalliance. In the few glimpses of life before the illness and funeral, Nicholas emanates a whiny codependence, with hunched shoulders and droopy eyes hinting at an inability to carry life’s burden alone. His mattress-hopping makes sense, even if his flippant disregard for the consequences does not.
Younger brother Chris (James Adomian) appears to struggle with the loss more at first, when in reality his grief just takes on a more public expression. In a family that always seems to have half-empty wine bottles scattered around the house he takes up the mantle of resident lush. Overindulgence at a holiday party causes some minor embarrassment, then a major faux pas. He takes to brooding, no less welcome but at least the furniture emerges unscathed. Both siblings regularly court a sense of fremdschämen, their selfish antics and disregard for how they impact a mother similarly in mourning throat-clenchingly uncomfortable at times.
The script by Russell Harbaugh, who also directed, and Eric Mendelsohn stays vague on the passage of time. Move too slowly or too quickly and the changes to each family member’s life would seem absurd; even in the middle ground, though, there’s little excuse for how they treat one another at times. At several points throughout the film you’re waiting for everything to finally fall apart in spectacular fashion but it never does, held together by the inexplicable substance of family. This is touched upon a little too neatly in a stand-up monologue by Chris near the end. Even as he processes his loss in front of an audience (a good showcase for the underutilized Adomian) it feels tacked on, as if Harbaugh worried we would miss the point without it.
The ensemble of MacDowell, O’Dowd, and Adomian make the point beautifully, though. You can’t encapsulate grief purely at the moment of death, nor even the burial rites that follow. It moves into the place of a lost loved one: sitting in their chair, sleeping in their bed, doggedly following those left behind. It doesn’t necessarily ever leave. You can only learn to make a place for it at the table and move forward with family at your side.
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