The End Of Love is one of those passion projects that sometimes feel awfully self-indulgent, yet can also be rather affecting. In this case, the film was written and directed by Mark Webber, who directed 2009’s Explicit Ills, and has been steadily acting his way through the indie circuit. The End Of Love is a close, intimate picture that straddles a curious line between autobiographical and fiction, blurring the line between Webber’s real life and the picture he’s trying to make.
The film is almost Spartan in its simplicity, focusing on Mark and his three year-old son Isaac (played by Isaac Webber, his actual son). Mark is a struggling actor trying to make it happen in L.A., living broke and semi-desperate as he travels from audition to audition while also having to take sole care of Isaac in the wake of his wife’s death. That’s … pretty much it. The character that Webber has written for himself is a difficult one to come to grips with — he’s part delayed adolescent who wants to still eke some fun out of his existence, yet he clearly loves and cares for his little boy in almost heartbreaking fashion. The consequence of these two often conflicting aspects of his life is that he creates an internal struggle through his own unusual pathos. He lives with friends of his, yet is behind on his rent, he struggles through auditions because he can’t afford childcare and is forced to bring Isaac with him, and he routinely sabotages romantic entanglements with his own distinct air of desperation. His ongoing, awkward encounters with a local single mother, Lydia (Shannon Sossamon), provide another compelling and often-charming aspect of his life.
Mark, the character, is a man who can’t get out of his own way, and as a result the film is often quite frustrating to watch, even when it’s well-done. The film absolutely shines when it’s Mark and Isaac, tromping through their days with Mark sad and exhausted, yet still giving his all towards making Isaac ignorant of the daily grind that he faces. Isaac is a genuinely sweet and charming kid, clever and inquisitive and funny, and Mark does his best to give him whatever he can. Yet that dynamic has two other effects — it’s heartbreaking when Mark’s stresses begin to cause cracks in his demeanor and he fights a brutal internal battle to keep himself from breaking down in front of Isaac. There are two notable scenes — at the cemetery where his wife is buried (note: in real life, she is not dead), and later on when Mark’s battered car gets towed — where he loses that battle with heartbreaking results. When the film stumbles is when Mark is outside of that family bubble, when he’s dealing with trying to find work, or rubbing elbows with his now-famous friends (featuring the likes of Michael Cera, Aubrey Plaza, and Jason Ritter — all playing themselves). Those moments feel less genuine and more self-indulgent.
Yet the most difficult part of the film lies within one of its central conceits, that Mark is trying to balance the realities of a struggling actor with the burdens of raising a child. For every moment where he laments his lack of work and lack of money, for every tightly scripted dramatic confrontations with his friends/roommates, there’s always the underlying feeling that what you’re really watching isn’t the struggles of a single dad, but the self-inflicted problems of a man who is fundamentally irresponsible. The film wants to paint Mark as a sympathetic character, but it’s hard to feel sympathy for someone who refuses to accept the reality that he needs to change. While the film’s final act finally shows Mark beginning to show some emotional maturity, it never gives one a sense that he’s going to actually make any substantive life changes. He begins to deal better with his wife’s death and with his son’s understanding of it, but he never begins to move towards a different path. Perhaps this is deliberate — perhaps the point is to simply show us a week in the life of a flawed, damaged, but well-meaning individual, to show the underlying humanness. But I could never shape the feeling that I was watching someone slowly, subtly sabotage his own life — a conceit that can be compelling, but becomes distasteful once a three year-old is involved.
With all of that said, some full disclosure: I confess that my own viewing experience is heavily colored by the fact that I watched the film over the course of a weekend when my wife was out of town and I was home alone with our nine month-old son. I spent the weekend scrambling around, playing, feeding, entertaining, consoling, and cajoling, resulting in an enjoyable, but also totally exhausting weekend. This is also the reason it took me two days to watch a 90 minute film — I basically just snuck in snippets of the film during naptimes. I couldn’t help but draw some parallels (obviously, thankfully, my wife is alive and well), and Mark’s flaws felt all the more glaring given my particular place and time.
The End Of Love is certainly an engaging, affecting viewing experience. Mark Webber has created a fascinating yet quiet little universe, focusing on such a tiny slice of human existence. The film works wonderfully as a snapshot of a man and his son and the difficulties and challenges they can face. Yet some of those challenges are self-created, and the film sometimes staggers under their weight. Mark is a solid actor, and his rapport with his son (who is not, in fact, acting, but rather just being himself with Mark and company giving him various cues, giving it an additional air of genuineness) is sometimes quite stirring. The film is sweet and charming, but also uncomfortable and occasionally difficult to watch, and its greatest flaw is that that discomfort isn’t always due to empathizing with human weakness, but rather to what felt like flawed writing. Those flaws take a what could have been a solid picture and drag it down just enough for it to be equal parts enjoyable and frustrating.
The End Of Love is currently available on Amazon Instant Video and other online outlets