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Haley Bennett and Sam Riley drink and smoke and babble and warble their way through the dreary romantic drama “She Is Love.”
The film from British writer/director Jamie Adams (which, sadly, has no connection to Luca Guadagnino’s stunning “I Am Love”) features the largely improvisational style Adams has used previously. But rather than feeling organic and realistic, the dialogue drones and meanders. Nothing is compelling about these characters, and Bennett and Riley have little chemistry with each other playing them, even though they’re supposed to be estranged exes experiencing an unexpected spark.
The contrived way they reconnect a decade after their divorce starts things off on a wobbly note. Bennett’s Patricia is an American in England for some vague work trip. When her meeting never materializes, she heads to a boutique hotel inside a converted countryside estate. Complaining about how ugly her room is and comforting herself with sips of gin straight from the bottle, Patricia initially has just the slightest glimmers of being a Bridget Jones figure, but her portrayal never comes close to being so lovably hapless.
Just as she’s trying to settle in for an afternoon nap, she’s awakened by the insistent thump of dance music from downstairs. Of all the people in all the world practicing his DJ skills, it’s her ex-husband, Idris (Riley). Now sober, the former rock star runs the hotel with his girlfriend, Louise (Marisa Abela), a narcissistic aspiring actress whose personality consists of preening and flouncing. She also tries on clothes and dances in front of the mirror for long stretches before disappearing from the film entirely. But Louise does have a couple of amusing, passive-aggressive exchanges with her assistant, Kate (Rosa Robson), over what kinds of dishes the hotel should offer on its dinner menu. Not that it matters, though, because Patricia is literally the only guest staying there.
The majority of “She Is Love” follows Patricia and Idris as they awkwardly try to avoid each other around the sprawling estate, then awkwardly try to make small talk before awkwardly getting wasted and revisiting their past. (The fact she starts drinking again is apparently no big deal.) Their playful antics consist of fumbling about in the bathtub, smearing white makeup on each other, and running around the hotel pretending to be ghosts. Along the way, they exchange some would-be snappy banter—“You’re disgusting!” “You’re impossible!”—but the animosity is rushed and toothless.
Similarly, the supposedly deep emotions that result from dredging up the trauma of their marriage feel unearned. The climactic scene in which they drunkenly unearth the source of their split is more shrieky than startling.
Worst of all, “She Is Love” is dreadfully boring. It feels like a short that was stretched out to feature length, with Adams following his characters around with a handheld camera, watching and waiting as they do nothing terribly interesting. He never makes use of the space for its potential for trapped tension. Patricia and Idris just wander around aimlessly, until all of a sudden, they’re arguing. Worst of all is the maudlin moment in which they strain to sing “Danny Boy.” Is this supposed to be ... sad? Happy? Who knows?
Bennett and Riley have both impressed in the past when they’ve opted for challenging material. Bennett was riveting in the candy-colored thriller “Swallow,” and had a bright, romantic presence in Joe Wright’s musical “Cyrano” opposite Peter Dinklage. Riley brought a haunted melancholy to his portrayal of tortured Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in “Control.” But despite their talents, neither can make this flimsy material sing.
Now playing in select theaters and available on digital platforms.
Haley Bennett as Patricia
Sam Riley as Idris
Marisa Abela as Louise
Rosa Robson as Kate
Craig Russell as Frank