Haley Bennett, Marisa Abela & Sam Riley Cannot Save This Improv-Heavy Experiment
Feb 14, 2023
An estranged couple reunites after ten years in Jamie Adams’ skeletal “She is Love.” That previous sentence both serves as the logline and entire plot for Adams’s lean improv-heavy dramedy, which features Sam Riley, Haley Bennett, and Marisa Abela adrift in a series of convoluted scenes that the trio attempt to “yes, and…” their way through. Anyone with a passing familiarity with Adams’s style — quirky character studies almost devoid of plot that, nonetheless, attract talent — will find little new here. Bennett, Riley, and particularly Abela do their best, but they are saddled with such thin characterizations that they barely pass as archetypes.
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The signs of creative stagnation are there from the start. Bennett’s Patricia shows up at a hotel run by Abela’s wanna-be actress Louise. There, she finds Louise’s boyfriend, and her own ex-husband, Idris. The chances of such an encounter happening are so far-fetched that the film never bothers to lay out Patricia’s reasoning, and it’s frankly useless to even question the sitcom set-up. But, from there, the obvious COVID-production strains credulity. Why is Patricia seemingly the only one at the hotel? How does Louise, a struggling actress, own a sprawling English estate? No idea.
Instead, we are immediately thrust into a series of awkward encounters, drunken antics, and even a tearful rendition of “Danny Boy.” Like Adams and the cast, you can probably mad-lib the rest, as long-held resentments between Patricia and Idris come to the surface and Louise’s jealousy gets the better of her. Playing out over the course of a long night, the divorced couple revisits their failed relationship with the help of plenty of whiskey.
Yet the film also makes the odd choice to isolate Louise so that Idris and Patricia can have a never-ending number of conversations about the passage of time and the dysfunction in their previous relationship. It’s not that big of a hotel, but as Idris and Patricia recount their courtship, dance, and drink together, Louise wanders about, practicing her lines and dancing, somehow unaware that her boyfriend is playing dress-up with his ex-wife a room or two over.
Louise is not a person so much as a plot device standing between the central characters, taking one of the more skillful actors in recent memory and pushing her to the narrative periphery. Eventually, the film just gives up on her plot entirely, as Louise leaves the house in an angry rage, not that Idris and Patricia notice that much, anyways. Abela definitely deserves better, but then again, so do Riley and Bennet.
These actors are quite talented, but they are only as good as the material, and improv doesn’t play to any of their strengths. Despite running 82 minutes, “She is Love” — a title that is, frankly, nonsensical — feels like an eternity. The conversations between Louise and Idris circle around each other, often quite literally, as Idris says something, only for Patricia to repeat it as if she’s bidding time in search of the next line. Such an approach creates stagnation within scenes, but also in the film, more generally, as we are given the same conversation again and again with little forward momentum.
When the truth about their dissolution eventually comes up, it’s not a shock, but it’s also not exactly telegraphed in the film either. Everything here feels makeshift, stitched together in the hopes that viewers might fill in the narrative or thematic gaps. While Adams’s loose approach must seem freeing for performers, it doesn’t make for the most interesting watch. When the film reaches its conclusion — a clichéd run after a certain someone — we haven’t invested in any of these relationships enough to care. “She is Love” feels incomplete; it’s a series of scenes searching for a narrative and a trio of talented actors searching for believable characters. [C-]
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