Love Liza opens with a beautiful opening credit sequence filled with obtrusive silence and images of a lonely man beginning his new life after his wife's suicide. This rarely-used technique grabs ahold of the audience and sets the mood for the entire film, a film that is sad, certainly, but also heartwarming and funny.
The lonely man is Wilson Joel (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a web designer whose wife used a closed garage and a running car to kill herself. Although normally a personable guy, Wilson has lost his way. When he finds an unopened letter from his wife, he doesn't have the strength to open it because he can't risk more pain.
His mother-in-law (Kathy Bates) and his co-workers aren't much help, so Wilson turns to inhaling gas fumes. The high he gets lets him forget about his loss, or at least try to, but it also makes his everyday life deteriorate as he slowly forgets how to interact with the world around him. When Wilson is cornered into a lie about his love for model airplanes, he becomes friends with the most unlikely of people, a radio control nut who is both excited and nervous about sharing his love for radio controlled gadgets with a man who so recently experienced a major tragedy. Despite their lack of communication, Denny (Jack Kehler) and Wilson form a bond that could pull Wilson out of the devastating spiral his life has fallen into.
As the blurbs on the DVD cover state, Hoffman gives an extraordinary performance that won't easily be forgotten. He brings to life a character who simply is devastated by recent events and who loses control of his life through his addiction to a dangerous drug. But what makes us care about the man is his personality, his free spirit. Watching Wilson laugh and dance around in the ocean shows us what Wilson has lost. And when he comes home to the silence of a once happy home we see what he has gained. This is nothing short of a roller coaster ride of emotions. A ride that would not have been available without Hoffman's flawless performance.
Screenwriter Gordy Hoffman (who won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for this script at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival) blends the depression of addiction and loss together seamlessly with light humor. At times, I found myself laughing and questioning my feelings—Wilson is in so much pain and his life is so messed up, how could I be laughing at anything? But it's this levity that relieves the pressure and tension of the tragedy unfolding on screen. Without it, the film would be just too heavy.
Love Liza isn't without its problems. The tension that surrounds the unopened letter is so strong that almost any ending wouldn't be satisfying. I'll be honest by admitting that I'm still torn about the climax of this film. Its realism was startling and refreshing, and it truly leant itself to the credibility of the story. But there is a small part of me (perhaps the part of me bred on Hollywood endings) that wanted more closure. Or perhaps after that emotional ride, I just wanted something a bit more upbeat.
Either way, Love Liza is a film with depth and more than enough quality, both in front of the camera and behind. Funny at times and emotional throughout, this film definitely deserves more attention then it received at the box office. Now that it's on DVD, perhaps it will find its audience.
Sony Pictures Classics presents Love Liza in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Mosquito noise is this transfer's greatest problem, being apparent in most of the darker scenes. Random specks also appear regularly across the screen and slight halo effects can be spotted from time to time. Being a low budget film, the source material probably wasn't the greatest, so these problems are at least understandable.
On the plus side, detail is sharp throughout and I never noticed any softening of the image. The best feature of this presentation is definitely the vibrancy of the colors. Director Todd Louiso chose a somber, earth tone palette for this film, and they look great here. Bright, primary colors add life to many scenes, and these colors appear bright and clean on this DVD.
Love Liza is presented in 2.0 Surround Sound, and for the most part, the audio track is nothing to complain about. Being a very quiet, dialog driven film, you won't hear much bass, but the rare effect track does have good separation from the front channels. Jim O'Rourke's score sounds very crisp (anything less would have been a shame), as does the dialog.
THE BONUS FEATURES
This disc features a very enjoyable screen-specific commentary track by Director Todd Louiso, Screenwriter Gordy Hoffman, and actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. All three add insight on the film's creation, pointing out technical aspects of the production as well as humorous anecdotes from the set. The three are very relaxed around each other, which lends levity to the track and allows them to remain open to thoughts and ideas from beginning to end.
Also on tap are filmographies of Hoffman and Bates, and several trailers.
Love Liza is a beautiful film that is sad, heartwarming, and funny all at the same time. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers an astounding performance, but the powerful script should not be overlooked. With a commentary that is both informative and entertaining, I have no problem recommending this one to just about anyone.