Nobody saw director Mark Webber's first feature, the ham-fisted 2008 protest rally Explicit Ills and it's a fair bet no one will see his second feature, The End of Love, either. But hold on a moment. There are aspects of Webber's aesthetic that are under-represented in American, low budget film and to dismiss him as a director (especially when he clearly would prefer to be an actor) could be a mistake. In both efforts he proves himself quite skilled in coaxing naturalistic performances and his sincerity is refreshing when most in his age group prefer snark and irony. The End of Love is an improvement over Explicit Ills, enough to where a third directing effort could really make things interesting. Here, Webber plays a barely employed actor named Mark, struggling to care for his 2-year old son, named Isaac (Webber's real son, Isaac Love). Their interaction is conveyed in gentle tones and sometimes strikingly beautiful quotidian detail. We spend so much time watching Mark and Isaac merely exist that when the wisp of a plot occasionally appears and disappears, we barely notice how little these elements actually work. The movie is available On Demand, an in-home experience not conducive to such muted, laid-back storytelling.
Whether the director and his talented DP Patrice Lucien Cochet were influenced by the Dardenne Brothers, Mumblecore or the much grittier Romanian New Wave films of the mid-aughts is anyone's guess. Whatever the inspiration, The End of Love feels fresh, modern and rarely forced in its emotions (save the overwrought title). From the beginning, Webber takes his time introducing us to Mark and Isaac. Heavy-lidded with an easygoing air of Los Feliz cool, Mark always looks slightly in over his head. Yet Webber insures we never doubt Mark's love for his son. He takes his boy everywhere, sometimes by choice, sometimes by necessity, since the child's mother is gone and Mark can't afford a nanny. He even takes Isaac to an ill-fated audition (ill-fated mostly because of Isaac), where he reads with Amanda Seyfried, playing herself. Mark's living situation is equally precarious. He and Isaac are crashing with friends who are getting increasingly frustrated because he contributes nothing in the way of rent. Mark is, by all accounts, scraping by, which the director presents in a vérité fashion that might strain the patience of those not attuned to Webber's intentions.
Although an actor himself, it's still surprising that Webber got his performers so relaxed and unafraid of pauses and silences. It also helps that his cast is equipped to deliver what he's asking for. Lord knows how he got such a fantastic performance from little Isaac Love. The kid is amazing and Webber presents him not as a screaming terror and pity generator for Mark. He's simply a typical 2-year old, which means there's already plenty of built-in challenges without having to goose the drama unnecessarily. When Mark takes Isaac to an indoor play center, he meets its proprietor, an attractive, contemporary-looking brunette named Lydia (Shannyn Sossamon, very good). Both are single parents who are a bit lost. He's drowning in debt and worry, she's longing for a connection. Their coupling, however, comes much too easily, a strange miscalculation considering how leisurely everything else is conveyed. The other notable player is an oddly cast Michael Cera, as the louche, party-throwing personification of the success that, to Mark, is becoming an increasingly distant possibility.
The engine that drives The End of Love is not the story, but the characters. A European approach, to be sure, even if the European approach has more thematic and emotional pull than anything in this film. Everything that happens to Mark happens because he has a son and the plot emerges from their long, languid interactions. For Mark, there's only so much headspace left for career and relationships when you're also trying to feed, clothe, house, entertainment and guarantee the safety of your child. And yet that discomfiting limbo is where Mark lives. He's stuck between the past and a foggy kind of now, as he tries to generate an emotional and financial tailwind. Whether he achieves that goal is answered in the movie with symbolism that is, at once, too simplistic and yet consistent with all that works in the piece. Indeed, what Webber does right in The End of Love makes us forgive much of what he does wrong. Kind of like how seeing your son's smiling face makes you forgive all the spilled milk and crying that came before.
Distributor: Variance Films
Cast: Mark Webber, Isaac Love, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried
Director: Mark Webber
Screenwriter: Mark Webber
Producers: Mark Webber, Liz Destro, Matt Sprague
Rating: Not rated
Running time: 90 min.
Release date: March 1, 2013