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Love Liza

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Love Liza

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates
Director: Todd Louiso
Rated: R
RunTime: 93 Minutes
Release Date: February 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Stephen Tobolowsky, Jack Kehler

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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Every so often an article appears listing the major sources of stress on a scale of 1 to 100. Losing your job, serious illness, divorce, all rank in the 90's. Top of the list? Death of your spouse. That's 100. When you wife or husband dies suddenly, unexpectedly, the stress is probably greatest. Todd Louiso deals with the reaction of two people near and dear to a young woman who has committed suicide apparently without warning. In a screenplay written by Gordy Hoffman expressly for his brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Love Liza" takes us into the minds of the victim's mother, Mary Ann Bankhead (Kathy Bates) and, far more important, the film explores the reaction of the woman's husband, Wilson (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who has a vision only once in flashback of his beloved.

Since the film has been written by the protagonist's own brother and since Philip Seymour Hoffman is in virtually every frame, you could not be faulted for thinking this is a vanity production. To an extent, you'd be right given the dimensions of the work, something that could turn up on cable TV and does not need the big screen to reinforce its effect. But since director Todd Louiso is dealing with the man's deterioration from within, made clear from the wonderful actor's facial expressions and reversion to childhood behavior, we can see why the movie took the Waldo Salt Screen writing award at Sundance early this year and why Hoffman could conceivably be considered an Oscar candidate if enough Academy members ever get to see the work.

Hoffman is shown almost throughout the hour and a half in his signature disheveled appearance, often with a two- or three-day growth of hair on his face and a who-cares attitude about his clothing-which is fine since he works with a bunch of young computer nerds as a web designer. Showing up at work surprisingly soon after his wife's death, he seem unable fully to accept the tragedy, particularly since he refuses to open a sealed envelope containing a final letter written to Wilson by the woman. Given time off from his job, he becomes addicted to sniffing gasoline, which he buys repeatedly in 2-gallon cans from a suspicious proprietor in his town of Prescott, Arkansas. Announcing to a visitor, who smells gas, that he is building remote-control model planes, he makes good on his lie by buying a model and winds up at a model boat competition with a rube-like friend, Denny (Jack Kehler).

Peopple have many methods for coping with tragedy, and "Love Liza" explores the extreme way one man from Middle America operates, or more accurately fails to deal within normal boundaries with his loss. Hoffman performs in the role of a person who despite his off-the-wall reaction is never less than believable, while Kathy Bates, as the mother of the dead woman who on the surface appears to comfort her bereaved son-in-law, is going through no small crisis herself. Anyone who has loved and lost can understand how irritating well-wishers can be with their insincere "I'm here for you" sympathies, but really, nobody can put together the pieces of a psychologically fragmented person but the man himself. Jim O'Rourke's almost ubiquitous sound track seems to mimic the silliness of the bereaved who like a little kid takes to sleeping on the floor, grooving on model boats and planes, and in a couple of instances even helping to corrupt a couple of pre-teens by giving them rags soaked in gasoline for them to sniff. By avoiding commercial glitz, Todd Louiso succeeds in getting under the skin of an individual in crisis.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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