Mark Webber has been around for years. It’s about time everybody noticed him and recognized his talent. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Webber appears in three separate films – The End of Love, For a Good Time, Call… and Save The Date – as some version of the nice guy he has mastered on screen over the past decade.
The End of Love he also wrote and directed, featuring, front and center, the relationship between Mark (Mark Webber) and Issac (Webber’s real-life two-year old boy). While the film isn’t the strongest debut for a director, a bit too meandering for its own good, it shows the promise of something more.
Mark’s an aspiring actor struggling to get any kind of work. One of the opening scenes involves a hard-to-watch audition in which young Issac bops around the room, distracting his father and the actress he’s reading with, one Amanda Seyfried. This is to be the first of many cameos that never feel as natural to the film as they’re intended to.
The most egregious example happens about halfway through the film, with Mark going to a little get-together at one Michael Cera‘s house. Cera (played by Michael Cera) lives in a ridiculous mansion in the hills, and a large part of the this over-long scene is devoted to the fact that Cera doesn’t have a railing on his balcony, which would prevent a very long fall. And they’re all drinking out on the balcony, so it’s interesting and scary. Something like that. A bunch of other people from Scott Pilgrim are in this scene (including Alison Pill and Aubrey Plaza), so that’s nice for those fans. The entire purpose of the scene in the context of the film is finally revealed way too late into the scene, and ends up repetitive and unnecessary.
Aside from these cameo-heavy asides, the majority of the film is Mark and his young son, trying to pay the rent. These kind of tales take the small problems so many of us take for granted and complain about and blow them up into real problems for people just scraping by. One of the most effective scenes concerns Mark’s car getting towed. We watch what the man has to give up in order to get the car back and it’s heartbreaking. Unfortunately, there’s not much else going on in the film. The majority of the shots in the film involve Issac being a 2-year old, talking gibberish and acting cute. This, to be sure, goes a long way, but not quite long enough.
The answer of why he’s raising this kid on his own is answered, at first, with jilty, distracting flashbacks then finally with a sad little monologue delivered by Webber to a once-potential love interest Lydia, played by Shannyn Sossamon. The once-hot-now-not actress shines in this film, making her case for a welcome comeback into the limelight. Her meet-cute scene with Mark, however, is compromised thanks to abrupt editing choices that take the viewer out of the scene. It feels as though Webber the filmmaker didn’t get enough coverage to support Webber (and Sossamon) the actor. It’s a risk when shooting a film in this handheld, verite-like style, and Webber steps on his foot a couple of times.
That said, the filmmaker knows that the style also serves this bare-bones story, and makes the most of it at the film’s finale, which takes place in a cemetery right after Mark has taught his young son about life and death. It’s a powerful, simple scene that promises no happy ending for the heroes, only more days trying to survive. Though this work be flawed, it is mature and honest. Webber’s got much more in the tank, as an actor, writer and director.