By Zak Rye. Between low-brow and no-brow, this is unCultured, where we shamelessly promote and defend some of the “worst” films ever made. This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, we present to you the heartbreaking Love Liza. Watch it with someone you love and cry your faces off together.

LoveLizaunCulturedHeaderThe experience I’ve had with Love Liza would be best described as a slow burn. Though it eventually found its way into a very dear sector of my heart, for years I would scan right past it without a second thought – in spite of a young Phillip Seymore Hoffman appearing on the film’s cover. Of course the day inevitably comes when there seems to be absolutely nothing left at the video store that feels worth watching. I recall, with an audible sigh, inspecting the back cover to Love Liza. I really cannot explain my reluctance: I’ve always loved Phillip Seymore Hoffman’s work, but there was something about the cover that nearly screamed “shitty romantic comedy”. With little more than total hesitation, I read the description on the back.

After his wife commits suicide, a distraught man (Phillip Seymore Hoffman) begins to sniff gasoline and search for answers.

Okay, say no more. I’m sold.

Our calamitous story revolves around Wilson Joel (Hoffman), a talented software programmer on the verge of self-destruction. Often completely removed from reality, Wilson wanders aimlessly in the aftermath of his wife’s suicide. In some of the opening scenes, we see him combing the house, searching for pieces of her, almost as if he’s looking for evidence that she was ever there at all. (He finds a hair tie with strands of her hair tangled in it, for example.) In doing so, he discovers a note she left for him. This note becomes a central focus throughout the story, as he cannot bring himself to open it. Though Liza is only shown in burry glimpses throughout the film, the letter comes to represent her constant presence. Wilson notifies Liza’s mother, Mary (Kathy Bates) of the letter, and that he’s not opened it. This leads to many emotionally fervent moments between the two, both coping with their loss in very different ways. As Wilson retreats, Mary attacks, both trying to find a balance through unfortunately inept approaches.

lliza_stl_14_h_8x10 - EditedIn attempt to further escape from his (for lack of a better term) horribly fucky life, Wilson begins to indulge in a very classy habit, known exclusively throughout haute society as huffing gasoline. Filthy as it sounds, the dream-like sequences of Hoffman under the warm influence of a gas soaked rag act as brief, serene moments of relief for Wilson and, though we see our protagonist engaging in something rather foul, it seems oddly forgivable in this context. These scenes in particular are laced with a devastatingly beautiful soundtrack, practically whispered by Jim O’Rourke.

As Wilson’s vice escalates, he finds himself in need of a believable excuse as to why he is constantly filling his can at the local gas station, and why he always smells of gasoline. In lieu of a believable excuse, Wilson opts for “remote control planes.” This lie quickly backfires, as his co-worker and hopeful girlfriend, Maura (Sarah Koskoff), invites her remote-control enthusiast brother-in-law, Denny (Jack Kehler) to pay Wilson a visit. Fearing his huffing addiction may be exposed, Wilson purchases an RC plane, and agrees to the meeting. Though Denny’s eccentric personality, and lack of verbal filter, often lend to briefly uncomfortable confrontations between he and Wilson, an endearing friendship develops between the two.

As the story progresses, Wilson’s life becomes fractured. We see him making great efforts to move forward by savoring any small happiness that may come his way and, at the same time, we witness him sinking deeper into his drug infused emptiness, losing his job, his belongings, everything he has left. In the end, yes, he reads the letter, and if you can make it through that scene with dry eyes, you’re most likely an awful person. Regardless of seeing Love Liza probably over 10 times, by the time the credits roll I’m always speechless.

While director Todd Louiso’s approach is steady, and his use of stark color accurately fits the film’s theme, his direction is not what stands out. The film was written by Hoffman’s older brother Gordy, with Phillip in mind for the lead. While the storyline could have easily relied heavily on a “what would you do?” arc, in order to more easily draw the viewer in, the Hoffmans do no such thing.

Love Liza is an intensely believable portrait of a man who is completely lost. Phillip Seymore Hoffman’s performance is stunningly brooding, with small injections of heart-aching humor that evoke a veritable sense of sympathy and understanding. I never once found myself wondering what I would do in his situation; I just hoped more than anything that I would never have to go through something similar.

lliza_stl_13_h_8x10 - EditedFive Interesting Facts About Love Liza:

1)     Love Liza was Gordy Hoffman’s first screenplay. It won the most prestigious Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance in 2002.

2)     The “huffer girl” is played by a very young and scrawny Kelli Garner.

3)     Hoffman did not know what the note said until the scene in which he read it.

4)     The note was read twice, once with full crew in the room, and once with only Hoffman and the cameraman in the room. On both occasions, it’s reported that every single person was in tears.

5)     The film’s ending is considered to be somewhat controversial, mainly regarding what its intention actually is. Many people believe that it’s meant to be a hallucination, some kind of symbolism, or total realism. You’ll have to watch to know what we mean…