You won’t find more believably passionate actors than Haley Bennett and Sam Riley, and under virtually any circumstance their pairing should be romantic magic. Well, any other circumstance than in She is Love, the latest loose, mostly improvisational film from Black Mountain Poets director Jamie Adams. While the two occasionally spark, they are fundamentally movie stars who benefit from a certain structure, and there are too few emotional payoffs in this flimsy single-location drama.
Essentially a three-hander that might make for a decent stageplay down the line if retooled, She is Love introduces us to Bennett’s hotshot literary agent, Patricia. She’s on a getaway to a posh Cornish hotel where she seems to be just about the only guest. That makes things extra awkward when the first face she sees is Riley’s character Idris. Not only is he a former pop star who now appears to be running the hotel with his young lover Louise (Industry and future Amy Winehouse actress Marisa Abela), but he also happens to be Patricia’s ex-husband. Awkward!!! They haven’t had any contact in years, not since a very bad breakup and divorce.
The situation should be rife with comedic potential, but this is not a funny movie. It does try to be at times, mostly as Louise, an aspiring actress, leaves the two former lovebirds alone so she can practice lines for an important audition. Her leaving them alone to sort out whatever still lingers between them doesn’t feel genuine at all. But worse, it leaves us to watch Patricia and Idris talk, talk, and talk some more about everything that went wrong. Their sad, doomed story is occasionally broken up by shots of liquor, some clown make-up, and drunken bouts of song. Riley, who will forever be remembered for his stellar breakout as Joy Division lead Ian Curtis in Control, still has a great, soulful voice that would be better served in a different movie.
The performances by Riley and Bennett aren’t the problem. They have great chemistry together as former lovers who still have that romantic spark, but also a ton of baggage between them. A clearer narrative would’ve gone a long way to show why the couple split, rather than just have us see its effects. Louise is meant to be a neurotic comedy character, but laughs are few. Idris is trying to get his rock ‘n roll mojo back, and seeing Louise, who was there when he was most creatively inspired, could be just what he needs. She is Love just has no clear direction, and it meanders along until lost like so many experimental, freestyle films tend to do.
She is Love opens in select theaters and digitally on February 3rd.