Directed by Todd Louiso, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Sarah Koskoff, Stephen Tobolowsky and Shannon Holt.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is one of those actors whose face is irritatingly familiar - from films such as 'Magnolia', 'The Talented Mr Ripley' and 'Almost Famous' - yet whose name remains elusive. In 'Love Liza' Hoffman finally takes centre stage to give an understated and moving performance as a man blinded by grief after the suicide of his wife, Liza.
Hoffman is Wilson Joel, a man dealing with Liza's death by not dealing with it. He sleeps in his car or on the floor rather than use the bed they shared, shuts himself off from his mother-in-law (a sharp-tongued but concerned Bates) and, when he finds a note from Liza, refuses to open it, carrying it around like his own personal millstone. Wilson's inappropriate behaviour at work makes other people uncomfortable and when he is told to take a holiday he returns to the resort where he and Liza honeymooned. On his return, he starts to sniff or 'huff' gasoline to block out the world.
Wilson tries to explain the constant smell of gas around the house to a concerned fellow worker by inventing an interest in remote control airplanes. Before long he finds himself on a roadtrip, gas-soaked rag in one hand, model plane in the backseat and still unopened suicide note in the glove compartment.
Like last year's 'Morven Callar', 'Love Liza' is a study of the impact of suicide on the partner left behind but the heroine of Lynne Ramsey's film was made of far sterner - and more interesting - stuff than Wilson Joel. Apart from the occasional shifting, out of focus shot, huffing gas is not an addiction that makes for good cinema as Wilson either passes out or blunders around, over and over again.
As in 'Morven Callar', music plays a large part. Experimental Chicago musician Jim O'Rourke composes the original score as well as contributing some of his own songs to the soundtrack but director Todd Louiso (the record shop employee that wasn't Jack Black in 'High Fidelity') is too blatant in his use of music to signpost stages in Wilson's disintegration. A scene where Hoffman splashes into a lake amidst a model boat club race to the strains of Jeff Buckley singing 'Corpus Christi Carol' is just plain ridiculous, even leaving aside the notable fact that Buckley died in a drowning accident.
Although it starts strongly, 'Like Liza' runs out of gas long before the trailed off ending. It may be Philip Seymour Hoffman's first starring role but it's a pity he didn't get a script and director that could match his talent.