Philip Seymour Hoffman is unlikely ever to become a leading man, but I doubt that was ever his goal. He plays nerds and outcasts so well that they’ve become his trademark. Todd Louiso’s film, which was written by Hoffman’s brother Gordy, offers him his first lead role, and Wilson Joel is every bit as quirky a character as you’d expect. This is sure to be the only film you’ll ever see about a man trying to deal with his grief through gas huffing and remote-control model-airplane flying.
Wilson’s wife has committed suicide, and though he keeps her farewell note around, he refuses to open it. A co-worker (Sarah Koskoff) mistakenly thinks that offers of companionship will cheer him up. He gets along better with his wife’s brother Denny (Jack Kehler), a troubled model-airplane enthusiast. Mary Ann (Kathy Bates), his wife’s mother, adopts a maternal posture that conceals her own grief and alienates him.
More a mood piece than conventional narrative, Love Liza seems influenced by recent Asian art films. Louiso frames the scenes inside Wilson’s house in dark, distant shots with no camera movement, his somber style matching the mood of the character’s nod-outs and grief. The warmer tones outdoors create a marked contrast, but they don’t lift Wilson’s depression.
As for his gas huffing, it may establish a connection with his wife, who killed herself via carbon-monoxide poisoning, but it leaves him with just two moods: grinding rage and nodding lethargy. The film suffers from the same lack of range as Hoffman’s performance grows overbearing and undisciplined. He needs to find a better showcase as a lead actor and a director who’ll know what to do with him for an hour and a half. (93 minutes