A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Diane Lane, who worked on Philip Seymour Hoffman's second movie, remembers that the cast almost tiptoed around him, he seemed so fragile. He's a bulky man, substantial, and yet in many of his roles he seems ready to deflate with a last exhausted sigh. It is a little startling to meet him in person and discover he is outgoing, confident, humorous. On the other hand, who knows him better than his brother Gordy, whose screenplay for "Love Liza" creates a Hoffman role teetering on the brink of implosion.
Hoffman plays Wilson Joel, a tech-head whose wife has recently committed suicide, although it takes us a while to figure that out. He presents a facade of conviviality in the office, sometimes punctuated by outbursts of laughter that go on too long, like choked grief. His home seems frozen in a state of mid-unpacking, and he sleeps on the floor. Eventually he stops going in to work altogether.
What he feels for his late wife is never usefully articulated. She left a letter for him, but he has not opened it; her mother, played by Kathy Bates, would like to know what it says, but what can she do to influence this man whose psyche is in meltdown? Wilson gives the sense of never having really grown up. One day he begins sniffing gasoline, a dangerous way to surround himself with a blurred world. He doesn't even have grown-up vices like drinks or drugs, but reverts to something he may have tried as a teenager.
The movie proceeds with a hypnotic relentlessness that hesitates between horror and black comedy. Searching to explain all the gas he's buying, he blurts out that he needs it for his model airplanes (this would have been a teenager's alibi). A friendly co-worker thinks maybe this is an opening to lure him back into life, and sends over a relative who is an enthusiast of remote-controlled planes and boats. This sends Wilson careening into a series of cover-ups; he has to buy a model airplane, he finds himself attending remote control gatherings in which he has not the slightest interest and finally, after a series of events that Jim Carrey could have performed in another kind of movie, he finds himself inexplicably swimming in a lake while angry little remote-controlled boats buzz like hornets around him.