With unconventional romcoms there is always a question of what will be kept within its expected formula. Will the upstart deliver the ubiquitous denouement romcom montage of our duo’s journey, which we’ve just sat through, to really drill down into the will-they-won’t-they dilemma? Will Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Into My Arms feature (the once beloved song for cynical lovers now popping up as often as an erection in a porn film)? And will there be a last minute dash when one of our two leads realises what a klutz they’ve been with their heart and that of their intended? And while She Is Love delivers on all these points it does try to do some interesting work with its premise before falling apart.
In the opening scenes of Patricia (Haley Bennett) arriving in Cornwall on a Friday, the improvisational style is presented to us with extremely close, freestyle, camera shots from which Patricia cannot escape. You’d expect Mia Farrow’s neighbours from Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) to enter the scene with their disembodied hands and commentary at at any moment. The premise of the film is then quickly set up: Patricia arrives at a country house ready for sleep after arriving from New York only to be disturbed by Idris (Sam Riley), a DJ on the lam from responsibility and, with his actions here, being a successful hotel manager. Once established that the couple have a history, the film quickly moves to Saturday. This is when the majority of the action takes place.
The film presents here its most interesting moment of a burgeoning psychological tennis match; presented, literally, by Patricia’s kinetic thinking-out process of throwing a tennis ball into the side of the country hotel which wakes up Idris and his girlfriend Louise (Marisa Abela). This scene evolves to the trio having an awkward breakfast and ends with Patricia telling Idris he is disgusting, and he telling her she is impossible. This scene of interest dissolves quickly into the actions of two characters, who shouldn’t have a future forced together via the conventions of the genre.
This unconventional romcom falls into some familiar trappings. The intriguing premise doesn’t make up for the lack of chemistry from the leads. With no external opposition to their middle-class ennui and emotional paralysis – a device which served British romcom Daphne (Peter Mackie Burns, 2017) extremely well – there is nothing for them to overcome except their laboured reignited feelings for one another. Sometimes an improvisational way of filmmaking can help a film which is trying to make a circle from a triangle, such as Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg, 2013), but here it only hampers the narrative arc. The only moments of humour come in the scenes featuring Rosa Robson as Kate (a hybrid of assistant and financial manager at the country hotel). It could have done with a few more good laughs.
She Is Love is in cinemas on Friday, February 3rd. On all major VoD platforms in April.