Indie Snapshot: Love Times Two

by admin July 5, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: Love Times Two

Love is the word this holiday weekend, as Stuck in Love and The Look of Love both open in limited release.

There are only a handful of truly great movies out there about novelists (off the top of my head, I'd cite Reprise and The Squid and the Whale), and Josh Boone's feature film debut Stuck in Love wouldn't come close to making that list. That said, this gentle indie drama -- which was initially slugged as Writers before settling on its new, more generic title -- about a family of writers is a modest pleasure for a good chunk of its running time if only because it has a healthy respect for the work that novelists produce, if not necessarily the firmest understanding of their artistic process. Greg Kinnear is the patriarch of the clan, Bill Borgens, a bestselling novelist who hasn't written anything of note since his messy divorce from Erica (Jennifer Connelly), who ditched him for a younger man. Good thing his two kids picked up the slack; in fact, college-aged daughter Samantha (Lily Collins) has landed a book deal, while high-school son Rusty (Nat Wolff) is still plugging away at developing his own authorial voice.

If Bill and his offspring aren't necessarily on the same professional page, their personal lives are all in similar states of disarray. When he's not lurking outside Erica's window, watching her have sex with her boy toy, Bill engages in some no-strings-attached afternoon delight with married neighbor Tricia (Kristen Bell, bringing plenty of pep to a glorified cameo role), who tries to help the guy out in the romance department by improving his wardrobe and introducing him to the wonderful world of online dating. Meanwhile, commitment-phobic Samantha finds herself attracted to classmate Lou (Logan Lerman) despite her best intentions (she can't resist a guy whose favorite book also happens to be Dear Mr. Henshaw, a book I hadn't thought about in ages, but in the wake of this movie desperately want to revisit) and Rusty uses his poetry to attract the affections of wild child Kate (Liana Liberato). All of this relationship drama is solidly acted and decently written, but much too familiar to leave much of an impression. The strongest passages of the movie are the scenes where the established author and his fledgling progeny discuss the art form they've dedicated their lives to, conversations that Boone pens with grace and good humor. It may not be classic lit, but Stuck in Love is perfectly adequate airplane reading.

One of the most unpredictable and, for the most part, under-the-radar filmmaker/actor collaborations has to be the partnership forged between Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan, who have respectively directed and starred in such terrific movies as 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and The Trip over the past decade. The Look of Love is the latest and -- I'm sorry to report -- the least of their team-ups, a biopic of British smut peddler Paul Raymond that takes its cues from The People vs. Larry Flynt, Boogie Nights and, in a strange way, Father of the Bride in equal measure. Told largely in flashback, the movie chronicles the rise of Raymond's skin-trade empire in the '50s to its precipitous fall in the '80s and '90, changing its visual style to reflect each era. (The '50s sequences are shot in lush black-and-white, the '60s in sumptuous color, the '70s with jagged, ragged handheld camerawork... you get the idea.)

Starting out as a savvy entrepreneur with an innate ability to profit off the public appetite for randy material, Raymond has his fun selling sex via burlesque shows and cheeky nudie plays (regularly taking the opportunity to bed the girls appearing in such shows) but always comes home to his wife (Anna Friel) and family the next morning. That is, until he meets the gorgeous Fiona Richmond (the striking Tamsin Egerton), who becomes his muse as well as his business and life partner. Together, they build an industry that grows to encompass strip clubs, a popular men's magazine and, most lucratively of all, real estate. His younger paramour also introduces him to the world of three-ways, drugs and rock 'n' roll, which Paul devours with no small appetite. Then, in the midst of the seedy '70s, he welcomes his grown daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots, doing yeoman's work in a flat, thankless role) into the fold and The Look of Love makes a jarring pivot from biopic to father/daughter tale. What happens next is fairly easy to guess even if you haven't ready Paul Raymond's Wikipedia page beforehand: Paul and Debbie get way in over their heads with booze, pills and casual sex, robbing him of his business acumen and her of any sort of emotional stability. It goes without saying that a tragic, premature end awaits at least one of them, but by the time it arrives, the movie has grown so repetitive and dramatically uninvolving (words that can also be applied to Coogan's performance), it carries very little emotional weight. The good news is that Coogan and Winterbottom are already hard at work on their Trip sequel, The Trip to Italy. Nothing like a little Roman adventure to a put a dud like The Look of Love in the rearview.

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