A couple fumbles through a Saturday night dinner date over Zoom. Another uses a spontaneous boat trip to save their marriage. A grieving daughter gathers her late mother’s closest friends for an afternoon lunch. These are the characters at the heart of Eleanor Coppola’s awkward and staid feature Love Is Love Is Love, which looks at the title subject through three vignettes. With its star-studded cast, familiar narrative structure and broad conceit (who doesn’t love love?), the film could have been a charming, if unremarkable, option for a low-key Friday night. But it’s thwarted by the pairing of an uninspired script and uneven performances.
You don’t start off feeling that way. Love Is Love Is Love begins solidly with “Two for Dinner,” an almost endearing short about a middle-aged couple trying to maintain the romance in their relationship. As a producer, Jack (Chris Messina) is mostly on the road and not in bed with his wife, Joanne (Joanne Whalley). We meet the two lovebirds as they prepare for a virtual date night, each of them requesting that the other wear a specific article of clothing. Joanne asks Jack to put on the suit they had made for him in London, and he asks her to dust off “those red strappy shoes” he loves. Their romance is less sexy than it is endearing, providing the same energy as Amazon’s anthology series Modern Love.
Love Is Love Is Love
Leaves something to be desired.
For dinner, they settle on French food, although for Jack, who’s in rural Montana, that means going to a fancy (not necessarily French) restaurant and ordering a steak. When the couple arrive at their respective locations, they settle into their seats and resume their FaceTime. Here’s where the short becomes a bit uneven. Joanne asks her server for the Wi-Fi password, even though the Wi-Fi on her computer remains turned off for the entire date — a distracting hiccup. The dinner is an otherwise sweet affair, moving agilely between mundane updates about work, the kids and the house, and flirtatious banter. The occasional poor connection and the sputtering audio and glitchy video add a realistic layer to the interaction and recall the not-too-distant early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Halfway through their meal, Jack, whose affection for his wife feels so over-the-top that it’s suspicious, begs Joanne to visit him. She initially turns him down. The last time she accompanied him on a work trip, she says, she walked 17 miles and read three novels (personally, this sounds like a dream). Plus, her confectionery business has taken off since the kids left — To where? Unclear — and the house needs tending to. If the short had ended here, with the couple missing each other, it would have been uneventful but somewhat successful at showing the challenge of maintaining a long-distance marriage. Instead, it takes a predictable turn and ends on an unsatisfactory note. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that Joanne eventually changes her mind and books a flight to Montana, much to Jack’s surprise.
Dissatisfaction is a theme in the next short, too, although for different reasons. “Sailing Lessons” stars Kathy Baker and Marshall Bell as Diana and John, an older couple whose quiet marriage hits a road bump when John announces that he wants a girlfriend. Whether he seriously wants a new fling is not the point of his declaration. Coppola, who wrote the script for each short with Karen Leigh Hopkins, uses this moment to introduce deeper (and more interesting) anxieties John has about getting older. When Diana probes her husband about why he wants a new relationship, he rattles off all the activities that keep her busy (read: away from him) and confesses that he wants someone to go sailing with.
Although Diana agrees to go sailing with John, the extreme worry she conveys feels misaligned with her character. She generally comes across as self-assured, and while that doesn’t preclude her from feeling anxious about the state of her marriage, her panicked state is hard to buy. The sailing trip does not help with that. As with Jack and Joanne, Diana and John’s conversations are more sweet than substantive. It’s hard to believe that these two individuals have been married for so long or that they have any real relationship troubles to begin with.
The short that closes the film introduces a different kind of love story. “Late Lunch” moves away from the intimate romantic relationships of “Two for Dinner” and “Sailing Lessons” to examine the love nurtured in friendships and mother-daughter relationships. While romantic love never bores, I think friendships and maternal love are more thrilling to explore. But “Late Lunch” doesn’t capitalize on the opportunities in its narrative and ends up being the film’s most frustrating section.
Its issues begin with the flat script. Caroline (Maya Kazan) invites friends of her late mother, Clare, to a lunch. The afternoon serves as an opportunity to memorialize Clare, whose cause of death is not revealed until the final moments. These women are unfamiliar with one another, and their conversation realistically portrays the awkwardness of grieving with strangers. A chorus of voices hums above the sounds of clinking plates and feet shuffling from the kitchen to the table draped in white linen and decorated with simple cutlery.
After the women sit down, Caroline asks each of them to introduce themselves and say a few words about her mother. The women begin to trade tepid memories of Clare, focusing on her near Catholic obsession with order, her eye for designer scarves and her devotion to friends. The anecdotes vary in intensity, and a few seem borderline absurd. When Wendy (Valarie Pettiford), the only Black woman at the table, delivers a clumsy speech about Clare’s ability to ask her questions, the depth of the film’s flaws becomes quite clear. Love Is Love Is Love is a film that banks on inspiring its audience without putting forth much effort. Even when the stories burrow into the specifics, they never feel in service to the characters. What we end up with, then, is a movie in which everyone says the right things, but it’s unclear whether they believe them.