“Love Liza” (2002): Grown Men Sniff Gasoline Too (Review)
To honor Philip Seymour Hoffman we’re taking a look back at his career and review some of the films he appeared in.
In Love Liza, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays a man named Wilson whose wife just committed suicide. At first he deals with it calmly but after finding a suicide letter from his wife (which he dares not open) he gradually starts to lose it, becoming addicted to sniffing gasoline among other things.
Love Liza was written by Gordy Hoffman, Phillip’s older brother, and directed by Todd Louiso who’s better known as an actor from such films as High Fidelity and Jerry Maguire. This was both Louiso’s feature-length film debut as a director and Gordy’s first produced script.
And it kind of tells.
Love Liza is anchored by another terrific performance from Hoffman, as well as a solid supporting cast, but otherwise it feels like a movie whose script was workshopped to death in something like the Sundance screenwriting lab. The whole thing just feels so much like some sort of “Standard Sundance Indie Movie”. It gets off to a slow start, but gradually things get “wackier”, though never too wacky of course as that would be off-putting. And all the characters behave too much like movie characters rather than actual people, with unconvincing “motivations” straight out of a screenwriting handbook. It’s a relatively “safe” movie about a touchy subject.
The premise behind Love Liza is interesting, if familiar, and this might be the only movie ever made whose main character is addicted to inhaling gasoline which definitely gives it some value. It’s competently crafted, well acted, occasionally funny and never really *bad* but it as a whole it just plays it too safe and leaves you wanting more, rarely going quite far enough with the premise.
It is of course thanks to the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman that Love Liza nonetheless remains watchable, despite its flaws. He brings so much into this role and acts the hell out of it. No one could play a lovably pathetic loser as well as Hoffman, with his hangdog expression, scruffy hair and general awkwardness. A good example of this is a scene in which a coworker tells a joke and everyone laughs, then when the laughing dies down Hoffman starts laughing and just can’t stop, with things getting more awkward with each second. Gradually each coworker leaves the table (in a manner which just feels way too timed, another example of how overwritten this movie is) but Hoffman just keeps laughing. Hoffman really makes you feel all the sadness under the laughing, without doing very much.
The supporting cast is quite solid as well and aside from reliables like Kathy Bates and Stephen Tobolowsky it’s worth noting Jack Kehler, which most might know as Lebowski’s landlord from The Big Lebowski, as a guy who befriends Wilson when he pretends to be flying model airplanes (to cover the fact that he smells like gas). Kehler is one of those excellent underrated character actors you see pop up in good movies every now and then and always does a lot with very little, he’s also just got such a lovable face!
In the wake of the recent tragedy this movie has an extra layer of sadness added to it as you start thinking that Hoffman maybe knew the termoils of addiction all too well while playing this role, even if it’s something as ridiculous as sniffing gasoline.
The Good: A strong supporting cast, including Kathy Bates, Stephen Tobolowsky and Jack Kehler.
The Bad: The rather trite script that feels too workshopped and middlebrow (should have been weirder and/or darker).
The Hoffman: Hoffman acts the hell out of this, totally giving his all to his rather thin character and makes him his own with his hanging mouth, scruffy hair and general awkwardness. Few could be as lovable and pathetic at the same time as Phillip Seymour Hoffman.