By Lisa Schwarzbaum
January 02, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST

In the indulgently feel-bad indie Love Liza, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Wilson Joel, a website designer incapacitated by grief over his wife’s suicide. Wilson can’t bear to read the note she has left behind. He can’t bear to deal with his mother-in-law (Kathy Bates). He’s a walking laundry lump of a man who can’t bear to do anything, really, except sniff gasoline (Liza, the wife, died in her car of carbon-monoxide poisoning), which leads him to sniff model-airplane fuel (because it can be acquired for the purpose less conspicuously), which leads him to the arcane world of model-airplane aficionados.

All the while, Hoffman acts the hell out of the role; whether this is an audience draw or not depends on one’s tolerance for ”acting the hell out of a role” acting. Or rather, one’s patience with witnessing the intense effort being made (even by as admirable a star as Hoffman), as if one were reading the crescendo and fortissimo markings in a musical score. Written by the actor’s brother, Gordy Hoffman, and directed by fellow thespian Todd Louiso, ”Love Liza” doesn’t so much dramatize one character’s process of mourning as string together arbitrarily strange scenarios that allow a performer to perform. The model-airplane subculture is a novel subject, but it remains a novelty here rather than a dramatic necessity. So does suicide — and that’s death to a tragic drama.

  • Movie
  • R
  • 90 minutes
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