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PARK CITY – Actor Mark Webber’s second feature behind the camera, The End of Love, is a delicate wisp of vérité-style drama that’s at its strongest in the scenes of disarming naturalness between the writer-director and his two-year-old son. When it strays outside that core dynamic of an emotionally scarred single parent struggling to make a living and meet the demands of raising a toddler, the film becomes more fragile.
Webber plays an under-employed actor named Mark, with his real-life son, Isaac, putting in unselfconscious screen time as a chatty little bundle of energy and inquisitiveness. Their bone-deep chemistry brings genuine tenderness, spontaneity and amusing jolts of chaos to this semi-fictionalized but lived-in portrait. While Webber and Isaac’s mother reportedly parted ways in a breakup, the more dramatically fertile scenario here has Mark as a grieving, remorseful widow, stuck in limbo since the tragic death of his wife in an accident.
Shot by Patrice Cochet in a nimble style that closes in on the characters without being intrusive, the early scenes are quite beautiful. Restless Isaac squirms in bed alongside his exhausted father, who mumbles a plea for “Five more minutes” before giving in and wearily negotiating the day’s choice of breakfast cereal. An audition follows in which Mark reads opposite Amanda Seyfried for a role, making the ill-advised decision to take along Isaac, who interrupts every line. Both the intense bond and the daunting challenges of solo-parenting are captured in these initial glimpses with refreshing economy.
Looking like hell, rather than just “movie tired,” Webber also conveys the gnawing stress of living on scant income in an unsteady profession while desperately trying to be there for his child, at an age when the boy requires almost round-the-clock attention.
There’s sad-sweet pathos in Mark making a game with Isaac of emptying his piggybank contents into a coin-collecting machine and then making ice cream their first purchase. A loan from buddy Jason Ritter gives Mark some breathing space. But the dwindling patience of the friends who have been covering his rent signals the precariousness of the father and son’s situation, and the fact that Mark is in denial about the need for concrete solutions.
Shannyn Sossamon is captivating as Lydia, another single parent who runs a kids’ play center and clearly craves a relationship. The shy flirtation between her and Mark is caught by Cochet’s camera in all its awkward intimacy, but these halting-romance scenes feel more scripted and somewhat banal, ultimately going nowhere.
More developed than the quick cameos by Seyfried and Ritter, an extended sequence involves Michael Cera playing a larkish version of himself. This waves an example of the life of freedom and ease that Mark is determined to believe is just around the corner for him too. His urgent need for distraction becomes evident during a party at Cera’s sleek modern house in the hills (with the actor’s Arrested Development crush, Alia Shawkat, among the guests). But the scene makes its point and then lingers too long, becoming superfluous to the central drama and a little too actor-y as Mark gets wasted.
Despite its flaws, however, the film is fueled by poignancy and an emotional rawness that’s mostly understated and only rarely forced. Webber’s key influence appears to be ultra-naturalistic contemporary European cinema, most specifically French, and The End of Love hits that mark often enough to make it affecting.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Production companies: Here Now Productions, in association with Poor Rich Kid
Cast: Mark Webber, Isaac Love, Shannyn Sossamon, Michael Cera, Jason Ritter, Amanda Seyfried, Frankie Shaw, Alia Shawkat
Director-screenwriter: Mark Webber
Producers: Mark Webber, Liz Destro, Matt Sprague
Executive producers: Mollie Engelhart, Tim Ryan
Director of photography: Patrice Cochet
Production designer: Michael Hersey
Costume designer: Negar Ali Kline
Editors: Sven Pape
Sales: Preferred Content
No rating, 93 minutes
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