THE STORY – When Patricia arrives at a country hotel in Cornwall, she encounters her ex husband Idris who manages the place with his girlfriend Louise. Things are immediately awkward and the former couple reconnect over a long, messy night where they revisit the past while remaining open to new beginnings.
THE CAST – Haley Bennett, Sam Riley, Marisa Abela & Rosa Robson
THE TEAM – Jamie Adams (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 82 Minutes
Though far from a household name, British filmmaker Jamie Adams has been incredibly prolific in his so-far short career, directing ten feature films in the last eight years. His approach is somewhat inspired by the likes of Mike Leigh, working from only a rough outline and allowing his actors to shape the characters and story through workshops and improvisation.
None of his films have leaped to any mainstream attention, but clearly, actors love him as he’s been able to attract stars like Cobie Smulders, Alia Shawkat, Eiza Gonzalez, and Laura Harrier, along with frequent collaborators such as Alice Lowe, Dolly Wells, and Craig Roberts. Adams continues in much the same style with his latest effort, “She Is Love,” but unfortunately, the loose nature of the production ends up feeling more flimsy than freeing.
The premise is simple but effective: New York-based Patricia arrives in the Cornish countryside to meet up with a client and ends up staying at a quaint hotel for the weekend, only to find her aging rocker ex Idris living there, and the place is run by his new partner. Immediately, there are a million possibilities as to where an awkward situation like that could go, and it’s clear the cast and crew have gone to great lengths to flesh out their characters’ backstories.
Haley Bennett’s Patricia is a free-spirited gal outwardly, but it’s all an act to cover broken ambitions for both her career and relationship; Sam Riley’s Idris is stuck in the past and still trying to act young despite being on the precipice of forty, and Marisa Abela as his girlfriend, Louise, is a spoilt and superficial rich girl more concerned with jumpstarting an acting career than running a hotel. Sadly, it seems everyone ran out of ideas after that, and the movie just sort of limps on from there until it reaches the minimum for feature length.
There’s no actual structure, destination, or even a clear theme for “She Is Love” to focus on, as the remainder of the runtime is mainly made up of Bennett and Riley just chit-chatting about their relationship history, then occasionally cutting away to a completely superfluous and unresolved subplot where Abela laboriously prepares for an audition. There is at least some sense of escalation as Patricia and Idris get increasingly drunk, and their conversations take a darker turn. Still, there’s a complete lack of substance or originality to their bickering. All the usual suspects in a dysfunctional relationship get trotted out: stagnant careers, dead relatives, disagreements about whether to have children, basically everything on the soap opera checklist.
The dialogue is clearly improvised, but it ends up sounding amateurish rather than naturalistic, with the actors constantly stumbling over their words as scenes drag on and on with no clear end in sight. Bennett and Riley at least have a natural chemistry that sells them as an estranged couple, but Abela seems completely out of her depth without a script in her hand. Her character is supposed to be this entitled but insecure young woman struggling to rehearse even the most basic dialogue in her audition script, but her performance is just as wooden and lacking in direction, even in the non-diegetic moments. The only other recurring character is Rosa Robson as the put-upon hotel assistant, but she has no personality beyond being mildly perturbed by Abela’s childish demeanor and basically disappears after the halfway mark.
The aesthetic execution doesn’t help much, either. The film is shot almost entirely handheld, likely a necessity of the improvisational nature of the shoot, and while there are a few photogenic moments, it generally looks flat and aimless. The editing is distractingly awkward on both a momentary and structural level, especially in a sequence where two totally disconnected scenes are intercut with each other for no apparent reason. It’s not there to create some kind of thematic parallel or even suggest a significant passage of time; it’s just…cut that way.
The score is sparse but incredibly unoriginal and sounds like it might as well have been pulled from a stock library, and most egregiously, the audio recording and mixing are unacceptably poor; with how dialogue rapidly changes from loud and peaking to distant and inaudible, you can practically pinpoint precisely where the boom mic is in each shot. With such a sloppy presentation, one could be easily convinced this is a rough assembly cut rather than a finished product ready for public consumption at a major film festival.
There’s barely enough story in the scant 82-minute runtime of “She is Love” to cover a movie even a quarter of that length, and what little substance it has is trite and dull. Adams’ relaxed approach works well enough when dealing with lighter material like “Black Mountain Poets,” where he’s directing comedians who know how to riff and turn nothing into something funny, but for a romantic drama, it requires way more finesse and powerhouse performances; as much as he may try, Jamie Adams is no Mike Leigh. Top it all off with a slapdash technical presentation, and this ends up feeling like a work-in-progress student film that inexplicably snagged two Hollywood actors.