Haley Bennett and Sam Riley play a former couple in She Is Love, an improvised drama that doesn’t have enough character moments – and quickly becomes muddled.
In Cornwall, a TV talent scout named Patricia (Till’s Haley Bennett) is heading to her hotel. It is a guesthouse in the middle of the countryside that, as her partner states over the phone, was the only one available. However, after Patricia checks in and heads to her room, she discovers another surprise: her ex-husband Idris (Sam Riley). He and Patricia haven’t spoken to each other since they divorced ten years ago. And out of all the hotels in Cornwall, she has arrived at the one he runs with his new girlfriend, aspiring actor Louise (Marisa Abela, from HBO’s Industry). Over the weekend she spends there, Patricia revisits the past with Idris, reconnecting with him in the process. But what will this mean for their new relationships?
Shot in under a week, She Is Love is the new feature from the extremely prolific writer-director Jamie Adams. On the surface, it seems like a typical film about estranged lovers reuniting years after they split. The twist here is that Adams began with just a story outline. The director then worked closely with the actors, allowing them to improvise the dialogue and mould the rest of the film. It is a technique Adams has used before and it is easy to understand why named actors gravitate towards this performer-driven style. Plus, improvisation has a surprisingly storied history in cinema. Like Crazy (starring Felicity Jones and the late Anton Yelchin) also used a script outline during filming, whilst movies like Blue Valentine, The Blair Witch Project and even Jaws used improvised dialogue. In the case of She Is Love, the improvisation leads to something perhaps too loose.
From its opening narration, the film purports to be about being unable to let go of the past, particularly when it comes to romance. The atmosphere at the beginning during Patricia’s arrival is one of extreme awkwardness, which seems fitting for the first meeting between two exes. It also means the film starts like a typical romantic comedy (complete with a folksy score). But that quickly subsides and the film soon settles into a gently-paced drama about rekindled love. And as Patricia and Idris spend time together, we gradually learn more about them. For instance, he is an indie singer-songwriter – making this another one of Adams’ films about a musician – whilst she used to be an author.
As they begin to reacclimate, She Is Love occasionally cuts to its other main character Louise. Her scenes see her either trying to run the hotel or practising the lines for her new acting role, workshopping ideas with the hotel clerk (Rosa Robson) and trying to get into ‘the zone’. Louise is positioned as the main threat to Patricia and Idris’ resumed relationship. Yet out of the three principal actors, Marisa Abela stands out the most. Her character may be overly assertive, but she brings a different energy to the film. At least compared to Bennett and Riley, who don’t quite click together. However, whilst Abela’s scenes are interesting, they also feel tacked on. And this demonstrates the main flaw of She Is Love.
This is a love story that should have had some weight or substance. Instead, the premise is weirdly thin for an 82-minute film, as if it is relying on its improv. The problem is that Adams’ outline is structured around moments – Patricia and Idris getting drunk and playing tennis, Louise rehearsing etc. – rather than the characters. And except for some small character details, we do not know enough about the couple and their past love to be properly engaged. It doesn’t help that there are no flashbacks or dramatic recounts of Patricia and Idris’ marriage or separation. And when an argument near the climax starts to pick apart their split, the editing suddenly cuts away from it. All of this furthers our detachment from what should be the most crucial element: the former couple looking back on their relationship.
She Is Love is an improvised film that quickly becomes muddled. The conversations feel real but, at the same time, aren’t seamless or captivating. The lack of structure in the narrative means what sounds like a curious premise is flimsy, unsure of where it wants to go. And it all leads to the final act, which aims for emotional moments that don’t quite pay off. Improv films have succeeded in the past, and you can easily see a version of this project working. Sadly, She Is Love is a romance drama that ends up feeling tired and long-winded.
She is Love will be released in UK cinemas and on Digital Platforms on February 3, 2023.