Movie Review: ‘Ovid And The Art Of Love’

Review by James Lindorf

Writer and Director Esmé von Hoffman is making her feature film debut with the drama “Ovid and The Art of Love.” While it is her first feature, the 115-minute movie is not her first foray into the world of the famed Roman poet. Hoffman previously wrote and filmed the 7-minute short, “Ovid in the Gutter,” which she reshot to be part of the larger project. Seen through eyes of middle schooler Jamal, this is a story all about how the young Ovid finds his life flipped-turned upside down. Sit right there, listen to his words, and he will tell you how he became the love poet of an empire called Rome. “Ovid and the Art of Loves” stars “High School Musical” alum Corbin Blue as the titular poet and John Savage (The Deer Hunter) as the authoritarian ruler Augustus. Ovid will be sharing his prose across all video on demand platforms in the U.S. on May 19th 2020.

Ancient Rome gets a modern twist, think Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet” or “Hamilton,” when Jamal brings the book to life in his home town of Detroit. Filming entirely on location in the once-thriving automobile capital and home of Motown has been crumbling in recent years. Failing jobs and resulting poverty leading to violence and a cycle of suffering mirrors the fall of the vast empire. The production team worked with local artists and groups to give the film a unique look incorporating togas, sneakers, graffiti, discourse, hip-hop, and poetry slams.

On the surface, the movie may be about the life of Ovid in the early years of Rome under Augustus. In actuality, it is turning a mirror on the current state of America. When family values and propriety are valued above all else, the good people of Rome begin to turn on their emperor, shining a light on all of the vainglorious leader’s shortcomings. Esmé von Hoffman doesn’t hold back and incorporates almost every hot button topic from the 1 percent, to veterans’ affairs, all the way to slut-shaming. These themes are where the film works best. Hoffman hopes that people may be more open to acknowledging their fellow citizens’ suffering when it is shown through the lens of art and history. Unfortunately, once you move past the messaging, there isn’t much left in Ovid’s story. He acts on whims, goes from childish crushes to a Lothario with the snap of his fingers, and lives a carefree life while everyone around him suffers. The most emotional connection and depth come from Tara Summers’ Julia, the Elder. She is forced into an arranged marriage for the benefit of her family.

“Ovid and the Art of Love” has an important message and an exciting visual styling that will be more than enough to carry its run time for some. Others will struggle to maintain interest like some of the cast struggled with the Shakespearian dialogue. Esmé von Hoffman may not have hit a home run her first time out, but there is plenty to be excited for as she continues to bring us new and exciting content.

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