“The end of our journey marks a new beginning for us” – commonly heard in one form or another in speeches by high school valedictorians.
Writer/director/producer Mark Webber also stars in his second feature film The End of Love with his real-life son Isaac and it is a winning combination. The story of a man dealing with the sudden, tragic loss of the mother of his child has some parallels to Mark’s real-life story; but because the film’s story is so well-crafted, the line between the fiction of the movie and the reality he lived through cannot be determined. Unless of course you know the specifics of what really happened.
In the movie Webber is just “Mark” a single dad, struggling in the aftermath of the loss of the great love of his life. His career as an actor is on the wane and he’s not sure how to re-ignite his prior success because he’s far too busy being a father to the adorable Isaac. He’s able to land a coveted audition with Amanda Seyfried but had no child care available. As a result, he blows the audition.
He and Isaac share a home with two friends of his but he’s so far behind in paying rent he will probably never catch up without landing a major role. So he fabricates the fact that he was just cast in a film with big-time director P.T. Anderson. The problem is, his agent had just told him he was out of the running for the part.
His good friend “Jason” (Jason Ritter, with whom Mark did a Neil LaBute Play in real-life) gives him some money to help bail him out, but yet another problem crops up to put Mark even further behind the eight-ball. The positive is that he’s managed to meet a woman who seems interested in him. “Lydia” (Shannyn Sossamon) is smart, attractive, and has her life together. She invites Mark to bring Isaac to dinner, where he can play with her own daughter, but when the adults are alone and begin to kiss, things go awry. Mark’s just not ready for this and tries to move too fast.
Trying desperately to feel hope and optimism, he decides to go to a party at a friend’s (Michael Cera) house. He revels in being back in that environment but this also does not go well. He’d promised the brand new babysitter he’d only be a few hours and what actually happens is just more evidence of how things are spiraling out of control for him.
What makes The End of Love so good is that we don’t see ‘acting’ from Isaac, who manages to steal every second of every scene he is in. Webber knew this would happen and made sure the cast was aware of it before filming began. The reality of what Isaac is doing, with the fictional film being staged around Isaac’s normal life makes for a very pleasing visual narrative that communicates real emotion without any artificiality. In spite of the fact Webber is doing just about everything involved in this movie except handling craft service and security, he gives a compelling performance as an actor. Few actors who are helming their own movie can do this well, but add his name to the list of those who can. Shannyn Sossamon delivers the good and the only knock on her role here is that there isn’t enough of it.
But the real joy to watch is Isaac. Especially since Webber found a way to integrate home video that is not big-screen quality into the film without making it a jarring transition back and forth. Better still is that music is under-utilized rather than over-utilized, letting the story dictate the emotions the audience experiences. I look forward to his next film with great anticipation.