Every bit as earnest as 2008’s “Explicit Ills” and even more star-studded, “The End of Love” is Mark Webber’s follow-up to his directorial debut, one which puts himself and his real-life son front and center in a mostly mundane single-father drama.
Webber plays Mark, a struggling actor and widower trying to make it in Hollywood for the sake of himself and his son, Isaac (Isaac Love). He flubs auditions with stars like Amanda Seyfried because his kid has to be in the room with them. He runs interference with his money-starved roommates, borrows money from buddies like Jason Ritter and overworks his babysitter by partying too hard with friends like Michael Cera, Aubrey Plaza and Alia Shawkat.
Then he meets Lydia (Shannyn Sossamon), a daycare center owner and fellow single parent who not only breaks the film’s real-first-name streak, but pushes Mark towards reconciling his deep-seated grief with the realities and responsibilities of everyday life.
Shot in a run-and-gun non-style reminiscent of the Dardennes’ naturalistic approach to their character studies, “Love” feels like the navel-gazing West Coast answer to the more caustic East Coast sensibility of the recent “Daddy Longlegs.” You will believe that a man can wince at the setback of a towed car, beg for favors from friends and cry when nobody’s watching. His toddler is adorable by default, neither asked nor required to really deliver much more of a performance beyond being himself, although Webber shares an understandable chemistry with both Isaac and Sossamon, albeit to different ends.
It’s not a question of whether or not the film is convincing enough in service of its tight-money concerns; Webber’s real-life experience with poverty and homelessness informs this film as much as it did “Ills.” If Mark’s journey is compelling at all, it’s due to his status as a victim of unfortunate circumstances more than his burdens as a sincere parent unexpectedly fighting an uphill battle alone or his dilemma as a stunted adult seemingly incapable of acknowledging his own habitual shortsightedness.
In the film’s one striking gesture, Webber consolidates his audio to an intimate space, looking to block out the rest of the world at the moment that his character needs to most. That critical silence comes on the heels of a half-muttered confession, and it speaks far louder than those words do.
“The End of Love” is currently available On Demand and will open in select cities on March 1st.