The title of Russ Harbaugh’s debut feature “Love After Love” suggests that the moments of love that we witness in this shaggy, fully lived-in family portrait will at some point end, and that later there will be another, different love. Harbaugh’s style is rooted in the immediate, snatching snippets of life out of thin air, but the structure of the title suggests a nostalgia for the present, a sense of already remembering, a desire to hold on to moments before they slip away, be they perfect or ugly or awkward.
Born of his short film “Rolling on the Floor Laughing,” and inspired by Harbaugh’s experiences with grief, loss and family, “Love After Love” follows Suzanne (Andie MacDowell) as she copes with the death of her husband. Her two adult sons, Nicholas (Chris O’Dowd) and Chris (James Adomian), are also thrown into a domestic tailspin after the loss of their father.
We’re privy to the roller coaster emotional life of grieving people — breakups, affairs, make-ups, creative endeavors, family disputes. The tone is intentionally unsteady, swinging from explosive arguments to warm, upbeat moments.
Nick and Suzanne are constantly regarding each other’s romantic lives warily, only occasionally breaking out into open hostility. MacDowell and O’Dowd are unexpectedly wonderful together, and it’s the finest work MacDowell has had the chance to do in some time. She’s luminous and raw as a woman grasping to put her life back together, while juggling her hapless, drunken and philandering sons.
O’Dowd also stretches himself in a complex, and often unsympathetic, role as a man spiraling out of control and using infidelity as his coping mechanism. Watching Nick operate can be deeply uncomfortable, even infuriating.
Deaths bookend “Love After Love,” and are inextricably intertwined with the great, beautiful bond of familial love that accompanies this kind of wrenching, life-changing loss. It’s a viewing experience that’s challenging, unflinching and deeply honest.
‘Love After Love’
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Royal