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  Love Liza Left Behind
Year: 2002
Director: Todd Louiso
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Sarah Koskoff, Jack Kehler, Stephen Tobolowsky, Shannon Holt, Erika Alexander, J.D. Walsh, Wayne Duvall
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Wilson Joel (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a website designer who has suffered a sudden bereavement when his wife, Liza, commits suicide. Unable to function through his repressed grief, Wilson begins to behave erratically, and is asked to take a holiday from work to recuperate. He goes to the beach where his honeymoon took place, and on the way back to the airport he is struck by the smell of gasoline coming from a taxi. Now he has something to replace his lost love: he is addicted to the smell of gasoline fumes...

Whenever a person tells you that someone close to them has died, you always say, "I'm sorry" and try to sympathise. But Love Liza features as its central character a man so messed up with sorrow that he pushes everyone away; not consciously, but through his self-absorption. Written by Hoffman's brother Gordy Hoffman, this film is a showcase for the actor's estimable talent, and he embraces the eccentric and tragic figure of Wilson, creating a man who has become detatched from the world, and only giving out random clues as to what is going on in his head.

When hanging around gas stations isn't enough, Wilson buys a canister, fills it up and enjoys the great smell of petrol in the privacy of his own home. Meanwhile, everyone around him is trying to make things as easy as possible, being kind and tolerant of his difficult behaviour. When his co-worker Maura (Sarah Koskoff) arrives at his doorstep, Wilson explains away the fumes as the fuel for his model aeroplane, and then has to go out and buy a model plane to cover his addiction. But he finds that the smell of the plane fuel is just as satisfying, and starts sniffing that as well.

Wilson feels unbearable guilt, believing he has let his wife down: "I think I did something" he tells a trucker who isn't listening. When Maura takes him to the zoo and tells him that she is attracted to him, he is filled with dread and runs away, unable to accept love any more. Then the film goes into a road movie, with Wilson driving aimlessly until, through a series of incidents, he ends up at a model boat racing competition, which he disrupts by taking a swim halfway through a race. Despite the tragedy, there are more than a few laughs to be had as long as you don't feel too uncomfortable.

We don't know what Wilson was like before the suicide, so Love Liza is in many ways an alienating experience. If you offer someone sympathy you expect at least a little thanks, but Wilson is beyond that, we never even see him crying until the end. He has a rival in his grief in the shape of Mary Ann (Kathy Bates), his mother-in-law. Connected in their loss, Mary Ann wants Wilson to open a suicide note that Liza has left him, but Wilson can never find the right time. The whole film leads up to the reading of the letter, but we're not sure that this act will have the necessary catharsis. For all its quirkiness, Love Liza is a small, sad film, which leaves a poignant feeling, ironically because of its largely unsentimental approach. Music by Jim O'Rourke.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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