Love Liza

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“Love Liza” is a slow, mournful film about a guy who deals with the death of his wife by getting high on gasoline fumes. Such a story probably needs to be funnier than this well-acted but lugubrious work is, because I don’t know how seriously I can take that premise.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom we really love as an actor, plays Wilson Joel, a Web site designer whose wife has just committed suicide. It was without warning, and though she left a note, he can’t bear to read it. He is positively crushed. Almost accidentally, he becomes addicted to gasoline fumes, as well as remote-control model airplane fuel.

His mother-in-law, played with the usual brassiness by Kathy Bates, tries to help him, as does a gentle coworker (Sarah Koskoff) and a kind boss (Stephen Tobolowsky). But he slowly spirals downward into addiction and misery.

Hoffman plays stoned for most of the movie, and while no one does “pathetic” better than he does, it is a trial upon the audience’s patience to inflict this much gloominess upon them. We don’t have a clue what Wilson was like before his wife’s death, but after it, he’s a miserable wretch.

Director Todd Louiso has an unusually evocative style that would be better served by a script that went somewhere. This one, written by Hoffman’s brother Gordy Hoffman, is all scenery and no destination: plenty of shots of Wilson huffing fumes, but for no good reason, story-wise. There’s also the matter of the suicide note, which is played up as a major mysterious document for most of the film, only to have its contents revealed as extremely disappointing.

In short, it’s difficult to imagine why someone would want to watch this movie. It has its moments of beauty, and even some of humor, and certainly Hoffman and Bates give marvelous performances. But the dreariness of the film is oppressive and tiresome.

C (; R, a lot of harsh profanity.)

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