You’ve heard of face-blindness, the phenomenon in which a patient can’t recognize the person in front of her without resorting to clues like the stranger’s voice and clothing. That’s an unbelievable but real affliction. But what about person-blindness, in which someone becomes completely unable to see a specific person in her life, or even to sense them in any other way? Buying into that unlikely conceit is the first of several tough hurdles to appreciating Love Is Blind, Monty Whitebloom and Andy Delaney’s romance about a lovely, lonely girl who can’t see how many people adore her. A pretty fable (the directors made music videos in the 1990s for the Spice Girls and Paula Abdul) that drowns in its own preciousness, it might have remained unreleased if not for a familiar cast including Matthew Broderick and Chloe Sevigny as the heroine’s parents.
As far as Shannon Tarbet’s Bessie knows, she only has one surviving parent, Broderick’s Murray. She thinks her mother died long ago, and that Murray’s continuing references to her are caused by dementia linked to Parkinson’s disease. Sevigny’s Carolyn calmly deals with being ignored, describing her daughter as a nutcase and seeming to know, deep down, that she caused this delusion herself by being a lousy mother.
If that sounds like a shaky assumption to make about a mental disorder, Jennifer Schuur’s screenplay is even less convincing in its approach to autism. Bess has long been seeing a psychotherapist (Benjamin Walker’s Farmer Smithson) who describes himself as “on the spectrum,” and much of his behavior here is dubious. For instance, if those on the spectrum typically value rules as a way of navigating the world, it’s unlikely Farmer would be unperturbed by the sexual advances his patient makes toward him. One often feels that autism is just another set-dressing quirk here, much like the silly decor (stacks of books used as an architectural feature, walls full of antique mirrors) in Farmer’s office.
Romance-wise, Farmer is just the preordained loser of the film’s contrived romantic triangle. Bess’ real soulmate is, naturally (?), the only person other than her mother she can’t see. Russell (Aidan Turner, of the Hobbit trilogy) is a rumpled hunk currently doing demolition work next door to Farmer’s office. The pic presents him as suicidal, but again, his yearning for non-existence is just a useful romantic conceit, an adolescent way of indicating these two troubled souls were made for each other. Farmer takes Russell on as a patient and suggests Bess should start group therapy with him, talking to the stranger as if he were an invisible friend. After a while, she’s able to hear the supportive things he says to her.
Occasionally, Whitebloom and Delaney seem to be influenced by an auteur who came to prominence around the time they started their careers: Hal Hartley, whose art house-beloved first films (set, like this one, just a commuter-train ride outside Manhattan) paired unlikely couples and didn’t require conventionally realistic performances from their casts. If that’s the case, they’ve missed the lessons those offbeat but thoughtful films had to teach. Here, affectation seems to be valued for its own sake, and love is something more talked about than understood.
Production company: Locomotive
Distributor: Uncork’d Entertainment
Cast: Shannon Tarbet, Aidan Turner, Matthew Broderick, Chloe Sevigny, Benjamin Walker
Directors: Monty Whitebloom, Andy Delaney
Screenwriter: Jennifer Schuur
Producers: Alexis Alexanian, Lucy Barzun Donnelly, Alexandra Perry
Executive producers: Lottie Cooper, Peter Friedlander, Christopher Gray
Director of photography: Monty Whitebloom
Production designer: Javiera Varas
Costume designer: Olivia Mori
Editor: Alex Kopit
Casting directors: James Calleri, Erica Jensen