You'll see lots of death in Russell Harbaugh's family drama Love After Love, but the most wrenching death on display is that of dignity. A man dumps his long-term girlfriend (also his coworker), marries a younger woman and is then infuriated that his old flame has quickly moved on. A drunken man excuses himself at a highbrow, meeting-of-in-laws dinner party, and relieves himself in the entryway. A barbed toast escalates into the toast-giver lunging at his mother.
Commendably, Love After Love steers clear of the cutesy character tics and "love conquers all" adage that has plagued brood outings like Little Miss Sunshine. The unit here is warped in innovative ways, and Harbaugh has an invigorating predilection for jarring cuts — to sudden screaming arguments, to ill-advised graphic sex — that consistently catch you off guard.
The cast is intoxicating, led by Andie MacDowell (doing her best work in years) as the mother of two hirsute, 30-something man-children (Chris O'Dowd and James Adomian, unhinged and electrifying). These three cope in variously unsettling ways with the death of the patriarch (whose cancer-induced wheezing is captured in unflinching, wide-shot detail). The intimacy among these three is off-putting from the start; expect oversharing about sexual partners and touchy-feely dynamics that border on incestuous.
But Harbaugh, with his subtle approach, renders this trio likable. He knows just when to burrow the camera in for jittery effect and when to relent. He's adept at arresting tableaux, such as the contrasting shots of two sets of naked, sleeping lovers, entwined in the same position. And just when Love After Love threatens to turn coy, Harbaugh closes on a cremation sequence, with -- of all things -- an upbeat Motown soundtrack.