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With: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Stephen Tobolowsky
Written by: Gordy Hoffman
Directed by: Todd Louiso
MPAA Rating: R for drug use, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 90
Date: 01/14/2002

Love Liza (2002)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

True 'Liza'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Poor Wilson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) can't even go inside his oldbedroom anymore. Instead he sleeps on the floor just outside. When hismother-in-law finds him there, he explains that this place is his place.It may not be much, but he found it and it's his.

Wilson has just lost his wife to suicide. She's left him a sealed letter, but Wilson can't bring himself to read it just yet. Instead he tries to go back to work in his job as an internet programmer.

When that doesn't work he takes a pathetic little vacation, illustrated by director Todd Louiso and screenwriter Gordy Hoffman in just a few sad little shots (a quick swim in the ocean, a drink with some fellow travelers, etc.).

Wilson's mother-in-law (Kathy Bates) keeps checking on him and tries to get him to read the letter, but he's really not ready. He begins to regress to a childlike state and indulges an urge to get high huffing gasoline.

When a friend drops by and inquires about the gas smell in his house, Wilson lies that he's just gotten into model planes. But then his friend Denny (Jack Kehler) invites himself over for a guy play-date. So Wilson must actually learn the ins and outs of model planes to cover up for his lie. It's during an outing to a weekend model boat show that Wilson finally begins the very first steps toward healing.

Of the many recent films dealing with loss -- In the Bedroom, The Son's Room and I'm Going Home -- Love Liza is certainly the most minimalist. Hoffman spends a good deal of screen time alone and without much dialogue, using only his considerable physical skill and screen presence to pull off the role. Best of all, he has no speeches and no obvious tearjerking redemption scenes.

Lousio, best known as record store nerd Dick in High Fidelity, gives the film a generous pace with plenty of quiet and open space for Hoffman to work. He allows life-rhythms to roll naturally through the film: a quiet moment here, a sad moment there, followed by thoughtful moments and, yes, even funny moments.

But Louiso keeps the reins tight as well, letting us know that a directorial presence is there, watching and even toying with Wilson. When Wilson huffs the gas, the film goes all woozy and audience members might even join him in his dizzy sickness.

Wilson's unstable world gets smaller before it gets bigger; he comes home one day to find that every single item in his house has been stolen, including his letter. He still can't leave, though. He huddles up next to a pile of boxes containing computer equipment for his next job.

He even sinks to sharing his gas with two kids who turn up from time to time, ultimately making Wilson look even more pathetic and childlike. But Wilson does finally grow up enough to open the letter, and it contains something that superbly rounds out the film.

Still, Wilson does not recover entirely. Love Liza only encompasses about six weeks, which is not enough time for a lonely soul to get over the loss of his life mate. The point of Love Liza is to record grief and the feelings that surround it, showing that grief is never just grief -- there's love and laughter in there, too. And more than just a little life.

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