Consider "Love, Etc." to be an antidote to the cloying saccharine taste of cynical big-studio cash grabs like "Valentine's Day." Yes, both films chronicle love in different forms and at different times in life, but "Love Etc." does so with a sense of both gravity and sweetness. The film opens with a 79 year old Al Mazur singing his original composition "Everyday's a Holiday in Brooklyn," and chatting with his 89 year old wife, Marion, setting the tone for this gem of a doc from Jill Andresevic. After this introduction to a lasting love, and a credits sequence capturing the everyday moments of affection between couples and families in New York City, a hand-drawn animated map takes us (via subway) to our first stop: Jamaica Hills, Queens, where engaged couple Chitra and Mehendra are just waking up. This intimate morning scene is punctuated by the sweetest of nothings from Mehendra: "I have to move the car." A fitting metaphor for a film that celebrates the quotidian moments of love and relationships in all stages and walks of life.
Chronicling the ups and downs of love in five different permutations-- Al and Marion married 48 years, divorced Queens dad Ethan, engaged couple Chitra and Mehendra, soon-to-be-a-father single gay theater director Scott, and high school sweethearts Gabriel and Danielle -- "Love, Etc." is a deftly crafted film that smartly sets up each storyline with the subway map and titles describing each situation. It's a framing device that fades away throughout the course of the film, but the editing is such that the five storylines are seamlessly woven together without sacrificing the small moments of amusement and affection that offer color and connection to the lives documented. The camera rests on tiny moments such as Scott trying and failing to put away the many bottles of formula after his newborn babies come home, and it's these tableaus that not only resonate with the viewer, but impart a special meaning into the story that can't be spoken or put together in editing. The film doesn't feel heavy handed in any way, though we recognize the beauty in shots of the teenage Gabi and Dani cuddling on a bench looking at the water juxtaposed with the 48 years married Al and Marion sitting on a bench at Coney Island. These lovebirds capture your heart, as after having been married for almost half a century, they are as googly-eyed in love as the high schoolers (if not more).
Each storyline offers a different portrait of different people all searching for the same thing: a loving partnership. Al and Marion have it, and after 48 years, it's still work, but it's also still fun. Single dad Ethan is hapless in his attempts, but despite his fears and misgivings, he doesn't stop putting himself out there. Chitra and Mehendra take the leap of faith and realize that nothing's ever as easy as it seems. Gabi and Dani experience first love and first heartbreak, too. Despite all the hardships and defeat, no one ever gives up hope or stops working at it. Even the 18 year old Gabi, though he struggles with English at times (he's Brazilian) is shockingly eloquent and wise beyond his years when he discusses his relationship with Danielle, saying love is like "making a house, everyday you put a brick, you construct it and create it; you make it with that person." A lesson that Ethan, Chitra and Mehendra are all learning the hard way.
In the end, the film is as much a tribute to love as it is to the diverse and rich population of New York City and the romantic setting it provides as a backdrop. New York is the welcome third wheel in all of these relationships, and the filmmakers use shots of the denizens of that city to illustrate their message about the sweetness and affection of everyday lasting love-- between boyfriends and girlfriends, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers and kids and friends. It's a a Valentine to love and a Valentine to New York City. XO. [A-]
"Love, Etc." screens tonight on OWN at 8 PM.