Love Is Love Is Love replaces politics with forgiveness.
In each section of Love Is Love Is Love: Three Tales, Eleanor Coppola makes a case for the perseverance of emotionally mature women. No one else in Hollywood takes middle-aged women seriously (the standard set by the Marvel Cinematic Universe is only interested in juvenile distraction) so Eleanor Coppola’s calm, patience, and insight provide an unusual movie experience.
The first story, “Two for Dinner,” extends a remote FaceTime conversation between Joanne (Joanne Whalley) and her film director husband (Chris Messina) while he’s away making movies. It goes from their separate bedrooms to their favorite restaurant (Napa Valley’s chic Inglenook). Pointing out digital technology’s alienation, cinematographer Mihai Malaimari Jr. instead emphasizes facial close-ups and warm colors for the couple’s sensual bond.
Messina’s flirtation is so overtly sexual as to signify errant habits. “Look at you in that dress . . . wear those strappy shoes so I can see your feet.” Whalley’s backatcha, teasing about “my handsome husband,” brings this pantomime of infidelity enticingly short of guilt.
Like Coppola’s Paris Can Wait, from 2017, this is the wife’s side of Fellini’s 8 1/2. Whalley’s combo of cat-who-swallowed-the-canary secretiveness and her cat-and-mouse mirth recall the temperament of Diane Lane’s career-best performance in Paris Can Wait. Better than autobiographical, Coppola’s confession goes beyond her own marriage (“Here’s to us and those like us,” Messina justifies himself) and is marked by discretion, decency, and wit.
The second tale, “Sailing Lesson,” steps ahead to middle-aged compromise in marriage: mutual needs and requests. Diana (Kathy Baker) submits to her husband’s pouting: “I want a girlfriend who wants to do my stuff.” A sailing picnic summarizes their 41-year union through metaphors of intimacy and now reconciliation — when a helpmate deals with a bad knee and bad shoulder and subtly obliges bad plumbing. “We’re empty-nesters, we’re both retired, we have to course-correct,” Diana says. Baker makes down-to-earth sexy when she repeats Coppola’s thematic toast: “Here’s to us and those like us.”
Part Three, “Late Lunch,” broadens that theme through a gathering of friends at a California memorial. Here is where Coppola expands her sympathy. But this toast “to us” has a consciousness-raising-group aspect — minus men. It risks self-indulgence that the previous stories just skirted.
When reviewing Paris Can Wait, I admired Coppola’s forbearance, waiting until late in life, when she had something to say, before making movies. It pours out here in unexpectedly sincere conversations about mothers and life issues. (“My mother said if we don’t look each other in the eyes, seven years of bad sex.” “Been there done that.”) Their candor is familiar and unembarrassed. Coppola directs her actresses to free themselves while revealing scripted regrets. Whalley’s “I couldn’t forgive myself” speech is potent, but Cybill Shepherd — wearing life experience on her face — seems to mirror all the women’s emotions. It’s Shepherd who explains Coppola’s individuality: “Feminism made a dent.”
That’s sufficient. Coppola isn’t a standard-bearer filmmaker; luckily, she missed the moment, so the movement’s rancor and confusion are replaced by love. Love in turn is expanded into this empathetic finale. Coppola replaces feminism with Christian values, primarily forgiveness — “forgiveness as a spiritual achievement.”
Surely that statement includes the unavoidable issue of abortion. One of the smart set complains about “all that Catholic guilt her mother threw at her,” while Claire’s daughter confesses the “beautiful secret” of her pregnancy. This genuine moral contrast is the gift of Coppola’s own elder’s wisdom; it distinguishes her art.
Other aspects of “Late Lunch” are lamentable: It’s like a United Nations Assembly, politically correct with a lesbian who adopted a black son and a black woman who brags, “We had a conversation about race. It was okay to be uncomfortable.” Even the Mexican maid is invited for the final toast, yet she has to take the privileged group photo.
When the women celebrate sisterhood in tap shoes, exchange expensive scarves, and Rita Wilson sings a maudlin song (“Regrets are like rocks that sink to the bottom”), the film gets to be cloying. Coppola, from the vantage of her privileged life, doesn’t tear through anxieties as Henry Jaglom does in his female-conclave movies (Eating, Someone to Love). The chance that these good bougie friends could all be Pelosi voters raises the specter of other mendacious California female partisans Boxer and Feinstein and their ferocious Hollywood supporters. Luckily, Coppola’s personal cinema graciously avoids politics. It’s not just a specialized niche, but a genre she practically has to herself.