Compelling drama can be drawn out of small, intimate stories, but there comes a point where a story is so humble, so quiet, and so commonplace that there’s almost nothing there. Mark Webber‘s The End of Love wants to hang its drama on a man coping with the death of his wife and struggling to be a single father, but Webber chooses to have the story live mostly in the moments between a dad and his son. Webber paints a warm and intimate family portrait but his attempts at any deeper drama outside of the father-son relationship feel out of place against the central and simple family portrait.
In addition to dealing with the death of his wife a year ago and struggling to raise his two-year-old son Isaac (Isaac Love), Mark (Webber) is desperately trying to find a job, meet new women, and reclaim a bit of the easy-going days he had before becoming a full-time dad. That’s about as deep as the plot goes and the majority of the story is just the day-to-day of Mark spending time with Isaac. Even when Mark hangs out with fellow single-parent Lydia (Shannyn Sossamon), much of his time is still spent playing with Isaac.
The entire heart of the film is Mark and Isaac, but the audience enters an artificial and predictable void every time Mark goes solo to explore his feelings. The relationship with Isaac isn’t filled with twists and turns, but it doesn’t have the self-consciousness of Mark’s soul-searching. Watching Mark interact with Isaac feels like any good father talking to his two-year-old son. Isaac is incredibly adorable and never much trouble, which is good since Mark is such a laid-back dad. At his worst, Isaac accidentally ruins his dad’s acting audition. The End of Love doesn’t really need a rambunctious toddler and Webber wisely shows all the warm moments so we can see how Mark’s soul is being sustained by his love for Isaac.
The semi-autobiographical aspect of the story can be a bit distracting at times since we’re left to wonder how much Webber is using from his real life and why he’s using it. In one scene, he goes to party with his Scott Pilgrim vs. The World co-stars Michael Cera, Alison Pill, and Aubrey Plaza, but we also see Mark as a struggling actor even though the real Mark Webber is in three movies playing at Sundance this year. Isaac is Webber’s real-life son which is why they’re relationship feels so natural, but Cera is Webber’s real-life friend, and yet his presence feels like an unnecessary cameo.
But regardless of how much he’s drawing from his real-life, Webber always plays his movie low-key. There are a few moments where Mark spins out of control and while the acting feels a little forced, the moments are almost a welcome relief from the movie’s subdued, sleepy quality. There’s nothing wrong with making a quiet, intimate movie, but The End of Love can be so still that you have to check for a pulse. The film isn’t supposed to have much momentum, but it goes so slowly that it almost sits still and you want to poke it with a stick so we can see Mark do something other than grieve for his dead wife or play with Isaac.
The calmness and closeness of The End of Love keeps the story emotionally honest even when Webber distracts us with the extent of the autobiographical aspects of the story. However, The End of Love mostly stays away from Mark Webber: The Writer/Director/Actor vs. Mark Webber: The Character, and instead lets us spend time watching a father try to raise his child. But then we start to get restless and want to congratulate Mark on having such a cute kid before making a polite exit.
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