A drama of manners
Love of My Life (2017): 5 out of 10: Anna Chancellor stars as a woman who is told she likely has five days to live due to a brain tumor that requires surgery. She is married to Hugo from Vicar of Dibley (James Fleet) and is looking forward to working and spending time with him till the end. Perhaps she will read a book, a short book. Then her first husband (Rachel Weisz’s brother from The Mummy movies John Hannah), upon hearing the sad news, shows up uninvited to win her back before she dies.
The Good: There is some very nice acting in Love of My Life by our two main leads (Anna Chancellor and John Hannah) and despite the stagey feel of the entire production, there are some gracious speeches given particularly by Chancellor. Love of My Life also often threatens to be funny and has some almost profound things to say about death.
The Bad: My wife commented out loud about a third of the way through this “you know who would be really good in this Emma Thompson”. It was a strange outburst since Anna Chancellor was doing a great job, but immediately I saw it. This is an Emma Thompson style character down to the mannerisms. I couldn’t unsee it (I also immediately pictured Kenneth Branagh as the lecherous ex-husband that youthful girls swoon over because he used to be famous and Helena Bonham Carter as the crazy woman whom the dying woman’s first husband left her for.) The movie that quickly developed in my head was leagues more entertaining than what was on the screen.
Love of My Life is about three men (there is also a possible office romance on top of the two husbands and now I think about it that teenage coffee barista would have done in a pinch) who are competing to be Grace’s last shag (and by definition one true love?) before she dies of her brain tumor on Monday. By definition, this is black comedy territory. You don’t set up a ridiculous premise like that and make a straightforward drama or, god forbid, a romantic comedy. This would be like remaking It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World as a film noir.
This steering into black comedy territory would explain the entire arc of John Hannah’s current wife (Hermione Norris) showing up like Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous, but without the warmth. It would also explain James Fleet’s entire character as the recovering alcoholic dimwitted current husband who is oblivious to the two other men vying for his dying wife’s, um… affections.
All the pieces are here for a great black comedy (why else hire John Hannah?) only for writer/director Joan Carr-Wiggin to completely drop the ball and instead go for drama and lots of life-affirming but stagey speeches.
We also get two daughters showing up and they come with subplots that are off the subject, out of the tone of the rest of the movie, and take up a lot of screen time for a film that already has serious pacing issues. In all fairness, the repeated line that Anna Chancellor has about her disappointment that at least one of her daughters wasn’t a lesbian is a good one. Hannah Emily Anderson, as the less of the two daughters, puts in a good performance and the arc does give John Hannah something to do in the film other than begging his ex-wife for sex. (John Hannah is actually so good considering some of the material involved. I wonder why he doesn’t get higher-profile roles.)
The Ugly: The end of Love of My Life is… well, let us call it open-ended and dreamy. After an hour and a half with these folks, I was hoping for an ending more in line with The Mist.
In Conclusion: I know that Canadians are supposed to be nice people, but how at least one of these characters gets through Love of My Life without being stabbed or thrown out a second-story window is a mystery. The premise is ridiculous, and the movie can’t see it. It is a comedy of manners, which only really works if it is a comedy. A drama of manners just doesn’t have the same ring.