The End of Love (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★
Shot in a cinéma vérité style, “The End of Love,” based on the screenplay and directed by Mark Webber, falls just short of greatness. By utilizing familiar actors who play a version of themselves, some of its grit—what makes the story so fascinating in the first place—is diminished. Instead of us focusing on what is being told, how, and why, many of us will wonder if an actor is playing himself or just another character that happens to be a popular performer on the big screen.
Upon his wife’s recent passing, Mark (Mark Webber) has been taking care of their two-year-old son named Isaac (Isaac Love, Webber’s real-life son). Since the single dad is a struggling actor with no job on the side, making ends meet is an every day challenge. There is pressure on rent payments, keeping himself and his son healthy, and also Mark still being in the process of grieving but not having anyone to talk to. When he meets Lydia (Shannyn Sossamon), a single mother, there is a glimmer of hope that Mark can get it together.
The romance between Mark and Lydia is not predictable. When they meet, the problems do not magically go away. We feel Mark making an effort to pick himself up just a bit, not to impress the woman in front of him but as to not appear so pathetic. We root for him because he is aware that he is not at his best but is trying to make the most of what he has to deal with. Mark and Lydia are tired parents. Though the camera does not spend much time on Lydia, we get a sense that some of her struggles might share parallels with Mark’s. In that way, we want them to get together so they can help better each other.
Love is perhaps the most talented two-year-old I have had the pleasure to watch on screen. During a handful of scenes, especially when the father and son are going through their every day morning routine, I was mostly at a loss for words. How does the child manage to articulate the lines so effortlessly and naturally? In addition to an almost perfect line delivery, he has the subtle expressions to match the words he is saying. Even teen and adult actors have trouble matching the two. I would love to have had a behind-the-scenes peek on how the filmmakers managed to get a shockingly good performance from the toddler.
The cameos by Amanda Seyfried, Jason Ritter, Michael Cera, Michael Angarano, and others hold the picture back in varying degrees. While understandable that the protagonist is friends with such familiar figures because they share the same profession, one or two would have been sufficient. Two-thirds of the way through, especially during Cera’s little get-together, it starts to feel like a parade. We wonder who will appear next instead of remaining invested in the poverty of father and son. Mark is running out of options.
Due to the cameos constantly disrupting the tone of the picture, I had a lot of trouble buying into some of the events in the final act. Mark explaining to his son what death means might have sounded good on paper but since several scenes leading up to it are distracting and atonal, we are not neck-deep into the drama. As a result, Mark teaching Isaac about what it means for a living thing to die is somewhat sad but not particularly touching.