A patchwork family (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits movie review)

The title of Don Roos’s production – “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” could suggest that it’s another romantic comedy, in which the protagonists must face many different difficulties and complications to achieve the state of desired happiness. In this movie Emilia (Natalie Portman) and Jack (Scott Cohen) go through a lot, but their story has not much in common with a humorous peripeteia. On the contrary – the plot is concentrated on trauma and loss that are almost unimaginable and impossible to work through. The couple has lost their new born child, but their grief seems to be suppressed and pushed to the margin of their everyday life that is concentrated on Emilia’s difficult relation with William (Charlie Tahan) – Jack’s son from his first marriage.

Roos’s movie is a deep and moving vivisection of the forbidden relationship between two people and their relatives who are affected by a huge personal tragedy and by the stigma of romance that has destroyed one family to begin a new one. “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” is a very intimate drama, which confronts the audience with the image of meaningless death. Instead of Hollywood spectacle and impetus, we get a very painful, private story and get close to the characters that everyday begin new fights against overwhelming sadness and unintentionally hurt each other with words and gestures.

What’s interesting, the figure of broken-heart father is in Roos’s movie rather anecdotic. It doesn’t mean that the director objectifies his loss or doesn’t give him a space to mourning, but that Jack’s character only completes the main drama that happens between Emilia and her stepson. The boy seems initially seems to be a little nerd that is affected by his birth mother’s hypochondria and behaves as a natural born manipulator and brute. In one of the most devastating scenes he consciously torments Emilia by proposing to sell his dead sister’s things. The director slowly reveals that William’s cruelty is his clumsy way of dealing with both – loss and his parents’ divorce. What’s important, in this situation the grieving mother also isn’t presented as a crystal and that’s why the story of love between her and her stepson is so intense. The problem of working through the trauma of unexpected and unjustified loss remains in the centre of the movie, and appears also in secondary threads. Roos manages to connect all those stories and turn them into a bitter-sweet tale about the possibility of living after experiencing unbearable pain.

Another interesting thread is concentrated on William’s mother Carolyne (Lisa Kudrow) – an overambitious, pedantic woman and a great gynaecologist who on every step manifests her disapproval for her ex-husband new wife. Carolyne is presented not only as a rude, cruel woman whose anger comes from unplanned divorce, but also as oppressive mother that wants control and power more than anything else. What’s worth of highlighting – even her portrait is not black and white. The director manages to break this stereotypical, schematic portrait and discover in this character something more than unlimited madness. In one of the most moving scenes she discusses with Emilia reasons of Isabelle’s death. In the beginning their conversation looks like a prelude to cruel tortures, but Carolyne manages to tame her anger and shows to her enemy a lot of empathy, which becomes a beautiful manifestation of women solidarity. What’s important, the small gesture of understatement and support doesn’t lead the characters to epic reconciliation – they will walk away as angry with each other as they were before. The director manages to avoid cheesiness and melodramatic twists, which is not so easy when creating a story based on loss. He also doesn’t judge his characters, but shows both – their good and ugly sides; all emotions and affects that can be revealed during the confrontation of two woman that are/were in love with the same man and during uneasy process of accepting new shape of one’s family.

The thread of the relationship between Emilia and Jack is the weakest part of the entire movie. The director fails when it comes to showing the complexity of the situation that the characters have found themselves and brings their dramas to simple and obvious conclusions like: the loss of child can put even the happiest couple into a crisis or that a father’s pain is often being unnoticed and ignored. On the other hand, Roos is doing pretty well when showing the child’s perspective. The portrait of William – his process of going through trauma of loss, of accepting his parents’ divorce and opening his heart for his stepmother –is the most deepened element of the entire story.