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Love Liza

Stocky, physically awkward, and generally wearing unshorn blonde locks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is an unlikely film star. But having worked his way up through bit parts (including Scent of a Woman and Twister), somehow he's developed enough of a following (supported by his association with director Paul Thomas Anderson) to be an indie leading man and pinch-hitting support player for mainstream films. And somehow he got his brother into the act — Gordie Hoffman is the screenwriter for actor Todd Louiso' s (best known as the quiet clerk in High Fidelity) 2002 film Love Liza. Hoffman plays Wilson Joel, a computer programmer who is struggling to find meaning in his life after his wife's suicide. The only thing that appeals to him is remote-controlled miniature airplanes, while much of his sorrow is obliterated by huffing gasoline fumes. All the while, Wilson drives away those around him who care, like his mother-in-law (Kathy Bates), fellow modeling enthusiast Denny (Jack Kehler), and co-worker Maura (Sarah Koskoff), whose motivations to be friends aren't what they appear. The one thing that keeps him going is the suicide note his wife left him, but he can't bring himself to open it. For better or worse, the merit of Love Liza rests on how much one enjoys staring at Hoffman — he's in every scene in the film. But if you're not a fan, or even if you are, the whole piece comes off as an exercise: Grief is a hard thing to not only deal with, but also very hard to make cinematic, and while the filmmakers are also trying to make some of this grief funny, the movie doesn't walk the fine line of dark comedy. Hoffman is good, but since this script plays to his "strengths," it comes off as onanistic; he should play someone dashing and capable just for variety. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents the Love Liza in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio. Extras include an audio commentary by the brothers Hoffman and Todd Louiso, as well as trailers for this and other small films. Keep-case.

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