Love Liza

on December 30, 2002 by Annlee Ellingson
   Philip Seymour Hoffman, a consummate supporting actor indispensable in such films as "Magnolia" and "Boogie Nights," has been waiting for a lead role worthy of him. Or rather his fans have. It took his own brother to write it for him.

   In "Love Liza," Hoffman plays Wilson Joel, a man mourning the sudden suicide of his beautiful wife. She left him a note, but he can't bring himself to open it, confessing, "I think I did something." His mother-in-law (Kathy Bates) tries to be there for him, but even she expresses extreme frustration at his unwillingness to read her daughter's last words. Concerned friends, a sympathetic new boss, an amorous co-worker--no one can fill the gaping hole in his heart.

   In his desperation to numb the pain, Wilson becomes a victim of substance abuse--not of alcohol or drugs, but of sniffing gasoline. (The choice is an interesting one, considering his beloved left her car running in the garage.) When a nearby gas station attendant becomes suspicious of his chronic habit of "running out of gas," Wilson stumbles on model airplanes as a distraction from his problems and a legitimate source of question-free fuel. But soon his addiction overtakes his life--he loses his new job, he misplaces his wife's letter and even his mother-in-law turns her back on him.

   Writer Gordy Hoffman and director Todd Louiso keep a respectful distance from their grieving character. The film doesn't open with a death scene or a funeral--simply Wilson sitting silently in his empty house. The details emerge discreetly, emulating Wilson's own incomprehension of the events.

   This allows Philip Seymour Hoffman to do the best work of his career, fully embodying, physically and spiritually, Wilson's woe. His blank expressions, his forced laughter, his slumped posture, his wild, bloodshot eyes, his deep, depressed breaths--Hoffman's performance is authentic to the core of his being. Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Jack Kehler, Sarah Koskoff and Stephen Tobolosky. Directed by Todd Louiso. Written by Gordy Hoffman. Produced by Ruth Charny, Jeff Roda, Chris Hanley and Fernando Sulichin. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 90 min

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