By James Rocchi | The Playlist January 22, 2012 at 11:21PM
Written, directed by and starring Mark Webber -- whose acting filmography runs from "Kids" to "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" -- "The End of Love" is hardly a work of revelation. At the same time, it's surprisingly well-executed, nicely performed and manages to combine a warm and gentle sense of the rhythms of life with a cold and bright-eyed look at the world and its lead's flaws and character. Following his earlier directorial effort, "Explicit Ills," Webber plays Mark, an aspiring actor and successful fuck-up. We see him woken by his two-and-a-half-year-old son, Isaac (Isaac Love). Mark asks Isaac what he wants for breakfast -- cereal? Isaac is intent: "Oatmeal." Mark shoots him an askance glance: "But oatmeal takes longer than cereal, buddy.…"
After a disastrous audition, where Mark has to bring Isaac along (one of two glaringly false notes; call it professionalism or ego, but any aspiring actor would leave their child with a rabid wolverine and a corn thresher before possibly disrupting an audition), he and Isaac go to what Isaac calls "the flower park." It's the cemetery where Mark's wife, dead eighteen months, has been laid to rest. Mark's having a tough time of it, and one of the best things about the film is that it's perfectly clear that he may be making the time tougher on himself.
Mark's a loser and a bit of a deadbeat -- and, at the same time, shell-shocked and shattered. Webber apparently shot the film catch-as-catch-can with his actors, and the loose, improvisational style works for many of the film's scenes. (I am not going to praise a two-and-a-half-year-old child's "performance," but I will note that Webber works around his co-star's in-the-moment utterances and needs so smoothly, and so swiftly, as both a director and an actor that you can't help but be impressed by their interactions.) And when Mark decides to teach a hard lesson at the end, in part so he can learn it by teaching it, you feel his devastation.
But along the way, and interestingly, every time you want to feel sorry for Mark, he does something that makes you want to smack him. "Two hours" at a party becomes a drunken overnight stay, with Isaac left in the hands of a stranger. (The party also contains another false note, Michael Cera playing a particularly unconvincing variation on himself, wandering about a Hollywood Hills home with a pistol.) A play date, and tentative real date, with another single parent (Shannyn Sossamon) turns disastrous, with Mark interrupting a tentative make-out by breathing "I love you" into her ear over and over with the desperate ardor of a man repeating something so strenuously and seriously that it's like he's trying to wish it into truth. Many actors in self-created projects and indie films trip all over themselves in their eagerness to go for the jugular and play up to the dark side, depicting callousness, cruelty or evil with panache, but Webber's Mark is more mortal than that, more human, more carefully pitched -- and, most importantly, more like us.
It's easy to see the line between fact and fiction blur into nothingness here -- Isaac is Webber's real son, although Isaac's real mother simply ended her relationship with Webber -- but there's also a real sense of art here. Cinematographer Patrice Cochet worked closely with Webber to shape the film's long-shot single takes, and also to capture no small amount of the real Los Angeles, its tow yards and corner groceries as well as its shining streets and shady palms. Elbert Hubbard said, "Life is just one damn thing after another," and it's to Webber's credit how expressively and naturally "The End of Love" conveys that with no small amount of insight, grace, humor and feeling. [B]