Review: ‘Love Is Love Is Love,’ starring Rosanna Arquette, Kathy Baker, Maya Kazan, Chris Messina, Cybill Shepherd, Joanne Whalley and Rita Wilson

December 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from top center: Maya Kazan, Rosanna Arquette, Polly Draper, Joanne Whalley, Nancy Carlin, Cybill Shepherd, Elea Oberon, Alyson Reed, Valarie Pettiford and Rita Wilson in “Love Is Love Is Love” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Love Is Love Is Love”

Directed by Eleanor Coppola 

Culture Representation: Taking place in various U.S. cities, the dramatic anthology film “Love Is Love Is Love” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Challenges in sustaining loving relationships are presented in three separate and unrelated stories within the film. 

Culture Audience: “Love Is Love Is Love” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a boring movie about love, featuring some well-known cast members.

Marshall Bell and Kathy Baker in “Love Is Love Is Love” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Love Is Love Is Love” should’ve been titled “Dull Is Dull Is Dull,” if people want an accurate description of this slow-moving train wreck. The movie wastes the talents of the cast in this badly conceived and clunky anthology film. Directed by Eleanor Coppola, who co-wrote the snooze-worthy screenplay with Karen Leigh Hopkins, this movie’s main purpose seems to be to give jobs to some well-known, longtime actresses, who unfortunately do not work enough due to age discrimination. These actresses deserve better than this misfire that does little to dispel the Hollywood movie stereotype that women over the age of 60 have boring love lives whenever they’re put in a movie.

What’s also off-kilter about the three-story anthology film “Love Is Love Is Love” is that the first two stories are much shorter than the third story. The first story, titled “Two For Dinner,” is 20 minutes long. Next is “Sailing Lesson,” which totals 16 minutes. Last but not least is “Late Lunch,” which is 49 minutes long and is the best story in the anthology. But that’s not saying much, because “Late Lunch” is still monotonous and ends in a very corny way.

“Two for Dinner” and “Sailing Lesson” are so inconsequential and forgettable, the movie would’ve been better off if it focused solely on the “Late Lunch” story, but only if it had gone through a major rewrite that improved the dialogue. Most of the cast members in the entire film do an adequate job in their performances. But they are hampered by playing characters who have the somewhat sad air of people who think that their best days are behind them.

“Two for Dinner”

“Two for Dinner” is literally about a video conference conversation that a bored and lonely wife named Joanne (played by Joanne Whalley) has with her film producer husband Jack (played by Chris Messina) while he’s away on location for a movie shoot in Whitefish, Montana. The movie never says exactly where Joanne is, but it’s supposed to be somewhere in the U.S., thousands of miles away from Montana. The conversation is supposed to be “cute” because Joanne and Jack have each taken their laptop computers to a local restaurant, so they can talk to each other while having dinner at a restaurant table.

If you think it’s romantic to watch a husband and wife make small talk about what to order on the menu and discussing whom their college-age daughters are dating while restaurant servers occasionally interrupt the conversation to take orders, then “Love Is Love Is Love” is the movie for you. You’ll find out more about the adult daughters’ love lives then you’ll find out about this longtime married couple.

For example, Joanne talks about a daughter named Kate, who’s dating a guy who rides a motorcycle. Joanne tells Jack that one day, the boyfriend asked Joanne for advice on how to have a long marriage. Joanne’s reply? “Don’t get divorced.” The end of this dull-as-dirt “Two for Dinner” segment ends with Joanne making an impulsive decision that’s supposed to show she wants to bring some spark to the marriage. Too late. Viewers might already be tempted to fall asleep or stop watching.

“Sailing Lesson”

Things don’t get much better in “Sailing Lesson,” which is about a married, retired couple who get stranded on a lake when they take what’s supposed to be a romantic boat ride by themselves. The movie doesn’t mention the name of the city where these spouses live. Diana (played by Kathy Bates) and John (played by Marshall Bell) have been together for 41 years, but John tells Diana that he’s gotten so bored with her, he openly jokes to Diana that he’s going to find a girlfriend.

Even though he’s only joking, Diana is alarmed enough to coax John to go a date with her on a boat where they are the only two people on the boat. While they sail on a lake, Diana and John have some bland conversations where they talk a little bit about their relationship. John doesn’t like that Diana seems to care more about her book club and going to gardening events than she seems to care about him.

And then, what do you know: The boat’s engine malfunctions, and it can’t start. There are no other people in sight to help John and Diana. Predictably, the boat is so basic, it doesn’t even have an emergency radio. John and Diana also can’t get any signals on their phones.

While Diana and John wait for any type of help to show up, the movie tries to have a sexy moment when Diana decides that she’s going give oral sex to John. (There’s nothing explicit shown, but it’s clear what Diana is about to do when she unzips John’s shorts and lowers her head.) It’s all so staged and phony that it’s anything but sexy. It doesn’t help that Bell is a supbar actor who just recites his lines in a robotic way.

It’s easy to predict what happens in the midst of this sex act. Let’s just say that after being “stranded” alone for hours, John and Diana suddenly don’t have privacy when they need it. By the time this plot development happens, viewers won’t care what really happens to John and Diana during and after this boat excursion. There are tidal waves that are more exciting than this couple.

“Late Lunch”

“Late Lunch” isn’t about a couple trying to spice up their marriage but it’s about a young social-justice attorney named Caroline (played by Maya Kazan), who has invited the dearest friends of her late mother, Claire Reynolds, to have a luncheon at Claire’s house, which is somewhere in California. Claire, who died a month earlier in a car accident, was a widow and a retired photo editor. The “love” in this story is about the love between friends and between a parent and a child.

Almost the entire segment consists of the conversation around the table during this lunch. One by one, the women talk about their lives and share their stories. Caroline, who’s lived on the East Coast since she was 18, had a tension-filled relationship with her mother. Claire disapproved when bachelorette Caroline broke up with a fiancé whom her mother wanted Caroline to marry. Caroline is filled with some guilt and regret because her last conversation with her mother was an argument.

The guests at the luncheon share their fondest memories of Claire and how she affected their lives. Anne (played by Rosanna Arquette) talks about how when she and Claire were teenagers, they made plans to lose their virginity around the same time. Jackie (played by Alyson Reed) is a lesbian who says that even though Claire was politically conservative, Jackie admired how Claire was so accepting of Jackie when Jackie came out of the closet about her sexuality.

Marlene (played by Polly Draper) had a sometimes-rocky friendship with Claire, whom she met when they both worked at Vogue. At the time, Marlene was an intern, and Claire was an assistant to the photo editor. Marlene says that Claire was a “bitch” to Marlene when they first got to know each other. Marlene and Claire found out that they were both dating the same guy at the same time, but Marlene and Claire ended up becoming friends. When Marlene reveals a secret that happened later in her friendship with Claire, it’s not too surprising, considering what happened early in their friendship.

Whalley, who was in the “Two for Dinner” segment, is in “Late Lunch” as another character named Joanne. The Joanne in “Late Lunch” says that her husband left her for another man. Nancy (played by Cybill Shepherd) confesses an emotionally painful secret from her past that has to do with parenthood. Mary Kay (played by Rita Wilson) is an aspiring singer, which means that Wilson promotes her own music in the movie. She sings a song during this lunch called “Because Love,” which Wilson co-wrote with Laura Karpman.

Wendy (played by Valarie Pettiford) is a doctor who often confided in Claire about the challenges and bigotry that Wendy experiences as an African American woman. Patty (played by Nancy Carlin) is Claire’s childhood friend from Dayton, Ohio, who feels self-conscious that her life isn’t as sophisticated and well-traveled as many of the other women’s lives. The other women try to reassure Patty that her life is just as interesting as theirs, but they don’t sound very convincing because no one really wants to hear about Patty’s life in depth.

Rose Simone (played by Elea Oberon) is a French woman from Paris who is a latecomer to the lunch. She brings a box of French chocolate as a gift. When the subject of forgiving infidelity comes up, Rose Simone offers this trite platitude: “Love. It’s bigger than the bedroom.” This is the type of mawkishness that the movie tries to pass off as “witty” conversation. Unfortunately, this luncheon, which was supposed to be a tribute to Claire, often sounds like a pity party of women expressing regrets about decisions they made in their youth.

“Love Is Love Is Love” misses the mark because viewers are left wondering what the point of the movie is when the movie presents love in such a passionless way. The movie basically just shows two stories about two longtime married couples having boring conversations while on a date, and a third story about women at a luncheon talking about themselves and a dead woman. Much like the tone of this movie, the “love” isn’t vibrant at all but is rather outdated and unaware of how lackluster it is.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Love Is Love Is Love” in select U.S. cinemas on November 12, 2021. The movie’s release on digital and VOD was on December 14, 2021.

Review: ‘Val,’ starring Val Kilmer

August 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Val Kilmer in “Val” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios and A24 Distribution)


Directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in various parts of the world, the documentary film “Val” features an all-white group of people, including actor Val Kilmer, talking about his life, career and legacy.

Culture Clash: Kilmer opens up about his throat cancer, his reputation for being a “difficult” and “eccentric” actor, and conflicts he’s had in his career and personal life.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Val Kilmer fans, “Val” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in non-fiction movies about people with cancer and mainstream movies from the 1980s and 1990s.

Jack Kilmer in “Val” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios and A24 Distribution)

When actor Val Kilmer made his feature-film debut in the 1984 comedy “Top Secret!,” he probably never imagined that his best movie would be an emotionally moving documentary where he looks back on his life while battling throat cancer. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, and he now has to use a voice device to speak. The cancer might have robbed Kilmer of the speaking voice that he used to have, but it hasn’t robbed him of his spirit. The documentary “Val” (directed by Leo Scott and Ting Poo) beautifully captures that spirit of this admittedly very flawed human being.

It’s refreshing that the documentary “Val” isn’t like most celebrity documentaries, which are usually filled with interviews of people praising the celebrity and padded with footage that’s already been widely seen by the celebrity’s fans. “Val” is told in Val Kilmer’s own words, with his son Jack Kilmer (who is also an actor) providing much of the voiceover narration. It’s essentially an intriguing movie version of his 2020 autobiography “I’m Your Huckleberry: A Memoir.”

The “Val” documentary also greatly benefits from all the personal archives that Val (who was born on December 31, 1959) admits he has been obsessively compiling from a very young age. Long before social media existed, he was filming himself and his experiences as much as possible. In the beginning of the documentary, he gives a brief tour of the warehouse-sized storage that he has for all the film footage, recordings, photos, scrapbooks and other personal memorabilia that he has amassed. So much of this footage is in the documentary that Val is credited with being a cinematographer for this movie.

Therefore, many of the highlights of “Val” include previously unreleased footage that can be raw, hilarious or sometimes uncomfortable to watch—but never boring. People who watch “Val” can see moments where his fixation on filming his experiences sometimes annoyed people around him. It’s an indication of how this documentary is a lot more honest than most documentaries would be about how a celebrity’s need to be filmed as much as possible can get very negative reactions from people close to the celebrity.

Val comments in the documentary through Jack’s voiceover narration: “I’ve lived a magical life. I have thousands of hours of videotapes and reels I’ve shot of my life and career. I’ve kept everything, and it’s been sitting in boxes for years … I’ve wanted to tell a story about acting for a very long time. Now that it’s more difficult to speak, I want to tell my story now more than ever—a story about my life that is also not my life.” Val then says of his life story in his own voice (which became impaired do to caner radiation treatments), “I know it’s incomplete.”

The documentary opens with some of this personal behind-the-scenes footage of Val on the set of 1986’s “Top Gun.” In this action flick about hotshot aviators in the U.S. Navy, he co-starred alongside Tom Cruise, with Val in the role of antagonist Tom “Iceman” Kazansky. “Top Gun” was Val’s third movie and his first big blockbuster. To this day, much of the memorabilia that he’s asked to autograph is for “Top Gun.”

In the behind-the-scenes footage, Val is shown goofing around in a film-set trailer with “Top Gun” co-star Rick Rossovich. Val holds up a cigarette pack up to his ear like someone would hold a phone to place an order. Val says, “More sex, more drugs, more wine, more headaches, more ulcers, more herpes, more women. And less of Tom Cruise!”

It’s an example of Val’s offbeat sense of humor. Val says in the documentary that although he and Cruise had a real rivalry on the set of “Top Gun,” to mirror the rivalry that their characters had in the movie, they actually became friends in real life. Val says he still has a cordial relationship with Cruise. He also comments that he wasn’t a fan of the “war-mongering” aspect of “Top Gun,” but he appreciates that people enjoyed the movie. Val also jokes in this behind-the-scenes “Top Gun” footage that he’s been fired from every movie he’s ever done.

All joking aside, Val opens up about a tragedy that had a profound impact on him: the death of his beloved younger brother Wesley. Val is the middle of three sons of industrialist/real-estate developer Eugene and Gladys Kilmer, who got divorced when he was 8 years old. The three children (Val, his older brother Mark and younger brother Wesley) were raised in a comfortably upper-middle-class household in Chatsworth, California, where his high school classmates included future famous actors Kevin Spacey and Mare Winningham. The Kilmer kids also had a charmed life at that time, which included living in a home that used to be owned by Roy Rogers, one of Val’s early idols.

Val describes his father as a business wheeler dealer, who owned a company called Liberty Engineering, and who used his power and influence to get full custody of his kids in the divorce. Val says his mother Gladys was “a spiritual woman who loved horses,” “an enigma” and “strong but aloof.” She eventually remarried and moved to Arizona. The three Kilmer brothers had a passion for filmmaking from an early age and spent a lot of time making short films together. There’s footage of one of those childhood short films called “Teeth,” which is about a killer shark.

Val says that Wesley was an aspiring film director and “an artistic genius whose imagination dwarfed mine.” In addition to acting in homemade short films, Val got involved in acting in school plays. And he was thrilled when, at age 17, he got accepted into the Juilliard School, a prestigious artistic university in New York City. Val claims he was the youngest person to be enrolled as a Juilliard student at the time. (The documentary has no verification from Juilliard to determine that this claim is true.)

While at Juilliard, Val says that he and other students helped create a playwright department because the school didn’t have one at the time. He collaborated with other students to stage the play “How It All Began,” based on German terrorist Michael Baumann’s memoir. He says, “I experienced the joy of performing my own words on stage. It was life-changing.” The play was so good that the students were invited to perform it on a real New York stage with paying customers, not just within the confines of the school.

The documentary includes new footage of Val taking his son Jack to Juilliard to show him around the school. Val points to an oversized photo of one of Juilliard’s former students, and asks Jack if he knows who that person is. Jack says no, and Val says it’s Kelly McGillis, who was one of the co-stars of “Top Gun.” In another part of the movie, Val says he and McGillis became good pals while filming “Top Gun,” partly because of their Juilliard connection.

While in his first year at Juilliard, Val got devastating news: Wesley died of an epileptic seizure while in a jacuzzi. He was 15 years old. As he says in the documentary, “My confidant disappeared into dust. Our family was never the same.” He also describes “being raw with grief” during his first year at Juilliard. And he says that his father Eugene became “a detached and vacant version of himself.”

After graduation, Val went on to do some work in New York theater. In 1983, two years after graduating from Juilliard, he had his first big Broadway break with a starring role in the play “Slab Boys.” In a self-deprecating tone, he talks about getting bumped from the play’s first-lead role to the third-lead role, after Sean Penn became available for the first-lead role, and Kevin Bacon got the second-lead role. There’s backstage footage of all of these future famous actors goofing around in a dressing room during their “Slab Boys” experience.

There’s also footage of Val getting lectured by acting coach Peter Kass during a rehearsal where Val was asked to tap into emotions of wanting to die, and Val says he’s never really felt those emotions. Kass gets irritated and shouts at Val in front of the group that everyone has had those feelings, but some actors are more honest about it than others. “There’s no way you’ve never had those thoughts!” Kass bellows.

Kilmer might have lost out on the starring role in “Slab Boys,” but he got a starring role in the action comedy “Top Secret!,” his first feature film. It was a spy caper with a plot that he calls silly and confusing. He filmed the movie in London, where by chance he saw a play called “The Genius,” directed by future Oscar-winning filmmaker Danny Boyle.

Co-starring in “The Genius” was a British actress named Joanne Whalley, whom Val says he became infatuated with at first sight because of her beauty and talent. He quips in the documentary, “She was brilliant, and I was making fluff.” Val says that he went back to see the play several times because of Whalley. And he even followed her to a pub after one of the shows, but he was too shy to approach her.

She and Val didn’t meet until years later, when they ended up co-starring together on the 1988 fantasy film “Willow.” They got married in 1988. Their daughter Mercedes was born in 1991, and Jack arrived in 1995. The couple relocated to New Mexico (the home state of Val’s paternal grandfather) and got divorced in 1996.

The former couple went through a contentious custody battle because Val wanted to stay in New Mexico, while Whalley wanted to raise the kids in California. The documentary includes an audio recording of Val having a heated phone conversation with her about their custody arrangement. (Only his voice is heard, not hers.)

There’s some family footage from happier times, including Val’s wedding and home videos of him being a doting father when the kids were young. Val also doesn’t shy away from talking about the bad times, such as when he lost a lot of money from shady business deals that his father got Val mixed up in after Val became a movie star in the 1980s. Val says that he had the choice to either sue his father or just pay off his father’s debts, and he chose to pay off the debts.

Whatever pain was caused by Val’s divorce, his children certainly have a good relationship with him now. He lights up every time he’s around them. And in one of the movie’s more poignant moments, Val, his ex-wife and their kids are shown as they gather in Arizona for the funeral of Val’s mother, who died in 2019. It’s the part of the movie where Val seems to be the most vulnerable. He puts on one of her necklaces, and he tears up when he says, “I miss my mama, but I had a vision that she was so happy with her youngest son.”

“Val” also has some insightful footage about some of his experiences in his more famous movies. Many of his fans already know that he used Method acting to immerse himself in the role of rock singer/poet Jim Morrison for 1991’s “The Doors,” directed by Oliver Stone. There’s some behind-the-scenes footage of him rehearsing in character as Morrison. He admits in the documentary that making “The Doors” was an all-consuming process that was very difficult on his marriage: “For my wife, Joanne, it was total hell. Home was just another place [for me] to rehearse.”

“The Doors” movie got mixed reactions from critics and audiences, but almost everyone agreed that Val’s uncannily accurate portrayal of Morrison was the best thing about “The Doors.” (Val did his own singing in the movie.) Although he’s never been nominated for an Oscar for his acting, his highly praised performance in “The Doors” was the closest that he came to getting an Oscar nomination. In several interviews over the years, Val has said that out of all of his movie roles, his portrayal of Jim Morrison was the one that personally affected him the most.

For his starring role in 1995’s “Batman Forever,” he hated the heaviness of the Batman suit because it limited his movements and ability to hear. He says in the documentary, “It was a struggle for me to get a performance past the suit, until I realized my role in the film was just to show up and stand where I was told to.” Ironically, Val says that when he got the call to do the movie, he was in a bat cave in Africa. Who really knows if that’s true? But it makes a great anecdote.

Even though “Batman Forever” was a massive hit and he was offered millions to do a follow-up “Batman” movie, he declined the offer and chose instead to do the 1997 spy film “The Saint,” because he got to play a character who had different personas like a chameleon. And it seems Val dodged a bullet by doing that next “Batman” movie, because it was 1997’s much-ridiculed “Batman and Robin,” starring George Clooney as Batman. (The documentary includes some satirical home video footage of a present-day Val and his son Jack dressed as Batman and Robin, respectively.)

At times in the documentary, Val acknowledges that his reputation for being a “difficult” actor was probably accurate. “I’ve behaved poorly, and I’ve behaved bravely,” he says. However, from watching this documentary, you get the feeling that Val has no overall regrets about his career choices because he feels lucky that he’s had a lot of great experiences and got to work with many of his actor idols. He describes the day that he finished shooting “Batman Forever,” he walked onto the set of his next movie: 1995’s crime drama “Heat,” directed by Michael Mann and co-starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. “‘Heat’ felt like an indie film,” Val remembers.

Val also got to work with Marlon Brando, perhaps his biggest actor idol, in a movie that had a much more tortuous production: 1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” which was a massive flop. Tensions were already running high because the movie’s original director (Richard Stanley) was fired, and replacement director John Frankenheimer did not endear himself to many people in the cast and crew. Two of the principal actors (Bruce Willis and Rob Morrow) quit the movie. Val was the replacement for Willis as the Dr. Montgomery character. Val calls the “The Island of Dr. Moreau” a “doomed” movie. And it also has bad memories for him because he got served divorce papers on the film set.

Behind the scenes, Val and Frankenheimer clashed on the set. (The movie includes footage of some of their arguing.) The way Val describes it, Frankenheimer didn’t really know how to direct the movie, and the director was more concerned about rushing to finish the over-budget movie than the quality of the film. Val also says that Frankenheimer made the mistake of alienating Brando by not listening to any of Brando’s suggestions.

Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes footage shows that Val insisted that he could only act in a scene if he was in the right frame of mind. Frankenheimer was also clearly irritated by Val filming this behind-the-scenes footage, which includes Frankenheimer ordering Val to turn off the camera, and Val ignoring the request, which caused Frankenheimer to get even angrier. In other behind-the-scenes footage on the film set, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” co-stars David Thewlis and Fairuza Balk look like they know they’re stuck in a disastrous movie and are trying to make the best out of a horrible situation.

A laugh-out-loud moment in the documentary is some footage revealing that things got so bad during filming of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” that Brando refused to come to work on some days, so they got his body double named Norm to film some of Brando’s scenes. Brando’s Dr. Moreau character wore heavy white makeup, so it was possible to disguise that it really wasn’t Brando in the scene where the character wasn’t required to speak. (It probably wasn’t funny at the time, but it’s funny to look at now.) A priceless moment in the documentary is footage of Val sneaking up on Brando, who’s resting in a hammock at night, and Val pushes the hammock like someone would push a child on a swing.

Not all of the documentary is about showing Val’s life at the height of his career. There’s also footage of a post-cancer Val attending fan conventions, which he says he needs to do to supplement his income. He makes money at these events by meet-and-greet sessions, where fans pay to get his autograph and get photos with him. At a tribute event in Texas for Val and his 1993 film “Tombstone,” Val has a moment alone where he looks sad and makes a confession.

Val says, “Sometimes I have the blues about having to fly around the country. I don’t look great, and I’m basically selling my old self, my old career. For many people, it’s the worst thing you can do … But it allows me to meet my fans. What ends up happening is I feel really grateful rather than humiliated, because there are so many people.”

Before his voice was impaired by cancer, Val was able to fulfill his dream of portraying Mark Twain (one of his artistic idols) on stage. In order to pay off his debts and get the money for the play, he sold 6,000 acres of land that he owned in New Mexico and that he had hoped would be part of his legacy to his children. He spent years writing the one-man play “Citizen Twain,” which went to several U.S. cities and probably would have continued as a touring production if Val hadn’t had gotten cancer.

Val seems to have taken his health condition in stride and wants to make the most out of the time that he has left on this earth. The documentary mentions that after his cancer diagnosis, he founded HelMel Studios, a Los Angeles-based gathering space for artists. And one of the most memorable things he says in the documentary perhaps best sums up why his life story can resonate with so many people: “I don’t believe in death. And my whole life, I’ve tried to see the world as one piece of life. When you pull back from the planet, you see that we are all one life source.”

Amazon Studios and A24 Distribution released “Val” in select U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021. The movie’s premiere on Amazon Prime Video is on August 6, 2021.

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