Review: ‘Bleeding Love’ (2024), starring Clara McGregor, Ewan McGregor, Kim Zimmer, Devyn McDowell, Sasha Alexander, Jake Weary and Vera Bulder

March 2, 2024

by Carla Hay

Clara McGregor and Ewan McGregor in “Bleeding Love” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Bleeding Love” (2024)

Directed by Emma Westenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place during a road trip from San Diego, California, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the dramatic film “Bleeding Love” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Native Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A landscaper, who is a recovering alcoholic, takes a road trip with his estranged 20-year-old daughter within a day after she nearly died of a drug overdose. 

Culture Audience: “Bleeding Love” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ewan McGregor and movies about families trying to heal from the trauma of drug addiction.

Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor in “Bleeding Love” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Bleeding Love” is a movie that can be heart-wrenching and hokey in different parts of the film. Credible performances from real-life father and daughter Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor carry this uneven road-trip drama during its weaker moments. If you want a more realistic look at how addiction affects families, watch any episode of “Intervention.”

Directed by Emma Westenberg and written by Ruby Caster, “Bleeding Love” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. “Bleeding Love” offers some moments of real-life parallels in this story about an alcoholic father trying to mend his fractured relationship with his 20-year-old daughter, who has addiction issues of her own. She is deeply resentful of him because she feels he abandoned her and her mother years ago. The daughter also has bitter feelings because she thinks he cares more about his more recent family, which includes his current wife, with whom he has a son.

Ewan McGregor has gone public about being a recovering alcoholic; he’s said in many interviews that he’s been sober since 2001. He also had a very public split from his first wife Eve Mavrakis, whom he left for his “Fargo” co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 2017. During this messy and prolonged divorce (the divorce became final in 2020), Clara McGregor (his eldest child) went on social media to make insulting and angry comments about her father Ewan. Winstead and Ewan McGregor became parents to son Laurie in 2021 and got married in 2022.

If this movie sounds like it could be like real-life family therapy, it looks that way, up until a point. In “Bleeding Love,” Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor portray a father and a daughter who do not have names in the movie, although the daughter’s nickname is Turbo. It’s a nickname that the father gave to her in her childhood. She doesn’t want to called Turbo anymore, because it reminds her of happier times when she and her father used to be close. The movie has several flashbacks to the daughter’s childhood (Devyn McDowell portrays the daughter at about 8 or 9 years old), showing mostly loving moments between her and her father.

It’s revealed near the beginning of the film that this father owns a small landscaping business called Highland Lawn & Landscape, which has a truck that he’s driving for this road trip from San Diego, California, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Much of their trip is through remote desert locations. The daughter is reluctantly going on this trip with him. Her mother is never seen or heard in the movie, although there’s a scene where the daughter calls her on the phone.

Less than 24 hours before this road trip, the daughter had nearly died from a drug overdose. She’s a talented painter who has given up on painting, much to the dismay of her father, who thinks she shouldn’t be wasting this talent. He says he’s taking her to Santa Fe to “hang out for a few days” with an acquaintance who is an artist because the father says he hopes it will inspire the daughter to start painting again. It soon becomes pretty obvious that there’s more to this trip than just a casual visit to an artist.

The daughter seems to know it too, because within the first 10 minutes of the movie, she tries to run away on a deserted road after getting out of the truck to squat on the side of the road to urinate. The father runs after her and catches up to her, and they continue on the trip, where they often bicker and have personality clashes. “You’re pretty out of shape,” she sneers at him after their short chase in the desert. He replies, “I can never keep up with you.”

After stopping at a convenience store to get something to eat, the father offers her a bite of his meat sandwich. She dismissively says, “I’m vegan.” The father asks, “Since when?” She replies, “Since I was 15.” Throughout the road trip, the daughter repeatedly tries to sneak drinks of alcohol without her father knowing. She also denies that she has any addiction problems.

After their truck breaks down (a road-trip cliché), a talkative and eccentric tow-truck driver named Elsie (played by Kim Zimmer) takes them to a trailer-park area so that her friend Amos (played by Willie Runsabove, also known as Willard Runsabove) can fix the truck. While waiting for the truck to get fixed, the daughter strikes up a flirtation with a graffiti artist named Kip (played by Jake Weary), who’s dressed as a clown for an outdoor kids’ party taking place in the trailer park. When the daughter goes back to Kip’s place, they start drinking alcohol, until the father bursts in and pulls her away after scolding Kip for giving alcohol to his under-21 daughter.

The daughter also steals mini-bottles of liquor at a convenience store. Later, at a diner, when her father is outside making a phone call, the daughter drinks a half-full glass of wine that was left behind by another customer. Considering her recent drug overdose, it should come as no surprise that it isn’t long before the daughter begins craving something stronger than alcohol. It leads to her meeting two strangers named Eli (played by Travis Hammer) and Michelle (played by Sasha Alexander), who are a couple.

The father shows a range of emotions when interacting with his daughter. He is stern, compassionate, remorseful and frustrated. She is usually angry, petulant, rebellious, playful and stubborn when interacting with her father. They both have areas of vulnerability and weaknesses that are exposed to each other during this trip. The movie shows rather than tells that this father and daughter are more alike than the daughter wants to admit.

Some of the emotions in “Bleeding Love” are raw and very authentic-looking. One of the movie’s best scenes is an argument between the father and the daughter in a motel room. However, there are other moments that are downright corny. Viewers find out why the movie is called “Bleeding Love”: There’s a scene where the father and daughter have a bonding moment when they start to sing Leona Lewis’ 2007 hit “Bleeding Love” together while driving in the truck. (Ewan and Clara McGregor also sing a duet in the movie’s closing-credits song: a cover version of the Alessi Brothers’ 1976 hit “Seabird.”)

Other times, this movie seems to exist just to show all the unusual characters the father and daughter meet on this road trip. After one of her many frequent stops to urinate on the side of a road, the daughter gets a burning sensation in her vagina while they’re driving at night. The father thinks it might be an animal bite, so he frantically drives around to find a drugstore that’s open.

It’s during this search that the father and daughter meet a sex worker named Tommy (played by Vera Bulder), who’s hanging outside a closed drugstore. It leads to a scene that looks very contrived for a movie, but the acting in the scene is good enough to overcome some of the screenplay flaws for this scene. Bulder’s screen time in the movie is less than 15 minutes, but she makes her wayward character a memorable and vibrant presence in an occasionally dull movie.

It would be easy to assume that Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor didn’t have to do much acting to channel the turbulent father/daughter relationship that’s depicted in “Bleeding Love.” However, re-enacting whatever problems they had in real life (they have since reconciled after the divorce turmoil in their family) is a lot harder than most people might think it is. “Bleeding Love” is at its best when it captures authentic nuances in parent/child relationships rather than creating hackneyed scenarios for the sake of filling up time in a movie drama.

Vertical released “Bleeding Love” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on February 16, 2024.

Review: ‘The Ride’ (2020), starring Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Shane Graham and Sasha Alexander

February 27, 2021

by Carla Hay

Shane Graham and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges in “The Ride” (Photo courtesy of WSO Film Group/Roadside Attractions)

“The Ride” (2020) 

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo

Culture Representation: Taking place in Northern California and other parts of the U.S., the dramatic film “The Ride” (which is based on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A juvenile delinquent, who was taught to be a white supremacist, is fostered and then adopted by an interracial couple, and he learns that he has a talent for BMX racing.

Culture Audience: “The Ride” will appeal primarily to people interested in real-life stories of redemption, even if it’s told in a very predictable and formulaic way.

Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Sasha Alexander in “The Ride” (Photo courtesy of WSO Film Group/Roadside Attractions)

“The Ride” is a biographical dramatic film that sticks to a certain formula that movies tend to have when they’re about people who’ve been able to overcome a troubled past to achieve some greatness. Based on the true story of professional BMX rider John Buultjens (formerly known as John McCord), “The Ride” takes a while to get to the heart of the story, it soars when it shows John’s transformation, and then it becomes a conventional sports competition by the end of the film. Despite having a lot of expected tropes, the cast members’ performances are appealing enough to make this movie worth checking out if people are looking for an inspirational and uplifting story.

Directed by Alex Ranarivelo, “The Ride” begins in Northern California, where most of the story takes place. John McCord (played by Alexander Davis) is only 9 years old, but he’s already living like an adult hoodlum. He and his friends have been recruited by a local white supremacist gang to commit crimes. The opening scene shows John and three other boys beating up a hospital security guard (played by Dorian Lockett) and stealing bottles of pills. But that’s not enough for these delinquents. They also brand the guard, who is African American.

John is caught and put in a juvenile detention center, where he kicks his cellmate Jose (played by Mario Gianni Herrera) just because Jose is Latino. And then, in a classroom at the detention center, three African American boys find out that John has a swastika tattooed on his neck, so the boys attack John. These scenes obviously show that a lot of John’s problems have to do with his racist beliefs.

Why did he turn out this way? John’s two older brothers Rory McCord (played by Richard Davis as a 14-year-old and Blake Sheldon as an adult) and Ewan McCord (played by the real-life John Buultjens) are both in the white supremacist gang which has become their surrogate family. John has an absentee father, while John’s mother Maggie McCord (played by Christina Moore) is a drug addict who’s been in and out of prison.

Maggie considers John to be a nuisance and refuses his pleas to let him live with her when he gets out of juvenile detention. While John is incarcerated, Maggie ends up dying from a drug-induced heart attack, essentially leaving John and his brothers as orphans. Seven years after being imprisoned, John (played by Shane Graham) is finally let out when he’s 16 years old, but he’s a very emotionally damaged person.

As a ward of the state, John is put in the foster care system. And the foster home he’s sent to live in is a nightmare for a white supremacist: Eldridge Buultjens (played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Marianna Buultjens (played by Sasha Alexander) are an interracial married couple. Eldridge is African American, and Marianna is white. They’ve had no luck in trying to start a biological family, so they’ve decided to try foster parenting instead.

When John is taken to Eldridge and Marianna’s upper-middle-class home for the first time, he immediately assumes that Eldridge must be a rapper or athlete to be able to afford this house. John is surprised to learn that Eldridge, who’s originally from Kentucky, has a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. Eldridge and Marianna met when they were grad students at the University of California at Berkeley. She has a master’s degree in linguistics.

Marianna and Eldridge know about John’s upbringing as a white supremacist, but they wanted to foster him anyway. When John asks them why they chose him, Eldridge says that Marianna felt that their family wouldn’t feel complete without a child. Of course, John’s bigoted beliefs cause problems in his difficulty adjusting to his new home.

There are the expected scenes of him being rude and uncooperative. And he constantly spouts racist assumptions. For example, during his first dinner with Eldridge and Marianna in their home, John assumes that he’s going to be served collard greens, which is a traditional African American meal.

John is enrolled in El Dorado High School shortly after the school year has begun. But he’s a misfit in the school, where cliques have already been formed. On his first day of school, John sees some BMX riders outside who are fellow students. One of them makes fun of John because of the shoes that John is wearing.

After school lets out for the day, the bully and his friends find the wheels removed from their BMX bikes that were parked outside. John is immediately accused of this vandalism. Police go to the Buultjens house to question John, but no arrest is made because there’s no proof of who committed the crime.

However, Eldridge is no fool, and he lectures John by telling him that he won’t tolerate any criminal activities. Eldridge also makes it clear that John has been given a chance to turn his life around, and John better not ruin it. John asks Eldridge again why he was chosen to be in this foster family: “Why me? Why not a good kid?” Eldridge replies, “Everybody deserves a second chance.”

It isn’t long before John discovers something about Eldridge that explains why Eldridge didn’t mind taking in a troubled kid with a criminal background. Slowly but surely, John warms up to his new family. When Eldridge finds out that John might be interested in BMX bike riding, Eldridge not only teaches John how to ride a bike but he also buys John a BMX bike.

The rest of the story goes how most people would expect it to go. As John begins to become better-adjusted in school and his BMX talent begins to blossom, he eventually starts to enter competitions. It’s not smooth sailing, since he gets rejected more than once, but he’s persistent in pursuing his goals. John’s racist older brothers find out that John is living with interracial foster parents, so they come back into his life and cause trouble.

“The Ride” director Ranarivelo co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Hadeel Reda, J.R. Reher and Jean-Marie Sobeck. “The Ride” is a fairly solid film, but ironically, the BMX competition scenes that are supposed to be the most exciting are actually not as interesting as they should be. Maybe that’s because there are obvious stunt doubles which detract from these BMX scenes trying to look realistic. The best parts of the movie undoubtedly have to do with John’s expected redemption arc.

Bridges’ performance as Eldridge is at times a little stiff, but he and Alexander are convincing overall as caring foster parents, while Graham turns in a capable performance as teenage John. “The Ride” isn’t an award-worthy movie, but it efficiently serves its purpose for being a positive and life-affirming story that people of many generations can enjoy.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “The Ride” on November 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Dangerous Lies,’ starring Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher, Jamie Chung, Cam Gigandet, Sasha Alexander and Elliott Gould

April 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jessie T. Usher and Camila Mendes in “Dangerous Lies” (Photo by Eric Milner/Netflix)

“Dangerous Lies”

Directed by Michael M. Scott

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago, the crime thriller “Dangerous Lies” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A young, financially struggling married couple find themselves in the middle of ethical dilemmas and a crime mystery when they get a windfall of inherited wealth.

Culture Audience: “Dangerous Lies” will appeal primarily to people who are looking for a slightly higher-budget version of a Lifetime movie.

Elliott Gould and Camila Mendes in “Dangerous Lies” (Photo by Eric Milner/Netflix)

What would you do if you found a hidden pile of $100,000 in cash in the house of a dead man whom you know doesn’t have any heirs or a will? The young husband and wife at the center of the thriller “Dangerous Lies” experience this dilemma, as their bills are mounting and they don’t have any viable job prospects to get them out of their financial hole. But whether or not to keep the money turns out to be the least of their problems, since “Dangerous Lies” is the kind of very self-aware B-movie where the number of people who die can be considered directly proportional to the increasingly melodramatic plot twists.

In the beginning of “Dangerous Lies” (directed by Michael M. Scott), married couple Katie Franklin (played by Camila Mendes) and Adam Ketner (played by Jessie T. Usher), who are in their 20s, are living in Chicago in a small apartment that they can barely afford. Their relationship will become increasingly strained over their financial issues. Katie and Adam are struggling to make ends meet, since he’s a full-time student, and she’s a waitress at a diner.

One night, when Adam is at the diner to give Katie a ride home after her shift, they both have a passionate makeout tryst in the back of their car while Katie is on a break. When they both go back into the diner, they witness an armed robbery taking place. Adam makes the bold decision to tackle the armed gunman, who has already shot and killed a bus boy at the diner. Adam is able to fight the gunman, whose name is Ray Gaskin (played by Sean Owen Roberts) and tackle him to the ground. Adam briefly becomes a local hero when the criminal is arrested but severely wounded from the fight.

Four months later, Katie and Adam are in even more financial dire straits, as they’re drowning in debt. Adam has dropped out of college, but he still has to pay back his student loan. Katie and Adam are also very close to being evicted from their apartment. The financial pressure has taken a toll on their marriage. Katie and Adam argue because she thinks he isn’t trying very hard to find a job after he dropped out of school. Adam thinks Katie is being too much of a demanding nag who doesn’t understand how hard the job market can be.

In the meantime, Katie has been the earning the money in their household by being a caretaker for wealthy, 88-year-old Leonard Wellsley (played by Elliott Gould), who lives by himself in a mansion on a quiet, tree-lined street. Leonard has never been married, has no kids, and has no living relatives. Katie got the job through an employment agency, which is run by George Calvern (played by Michael B. Northey), who thinks Katie is trustworthy until some occurrences make him wonder if she has a devious side to her. George has a habit of showing up at Leonard’s house unannounced, which understandably annoys Leonard.

On another occasion, Katie encounters another unannounced visitor: a smarmy-looking Mickey Hayden (played by Cam Gigandet), who introduces himself as a real-estate agent. Mickey says that he has a client with a big family who wants to buy Leonard’s house and is willing to pay whatever the asking price will be. Katie firmly tells Mickey that the house isn’t for sale because Leonard the owner has told her that. Mickey walks away, but will this be the last we see of him? Of course not.

One day, Katie blurts out to Leonard that she and Adam are financially broke. Leonard offers to give money to Katie to ease her financial woes, but she politely declines. Instead, she asks Leonard if Adam can work there as a part-time gardener. Leonard immediately agrees.

Adam begins working for Leonard, and things seem to be going very smoothly. Katie and Adam are arguing less and it seems that they are slowly getting back on on track to improving their finances. Leonard has surprised Katie with a check for $7,000 as a gift. At first, Katie wants to refuse the gift and return the check to Leonard. But Adam changes her mind because he convinces her that the money will be more than enough to solve the couple’s immediate financial problems. Therefore, they both go to a bank to deposit the check.

But then, something unexpected happens the next day: Katie goes to work and finds Leonard dead in the attic. In this “finding the body” scene, Mendes shows limited acting range, since she doesn’t appear to be very startled or shocked at finding her boss dead while he’s sitting in a chair. Later, she sheds some tears while she’s calling 911, but the way that Mendes plays Katie’s initial reaction is just a little too wooden for this type of scene.

Before calling 911 about finding the body, Katie tells Adam, who’s nearby, and he rushes over to comfort Katie. While they’re waiting for an ambulance and police arrive, Adam discovers a key on the floor next to Leonard’s body. He finds out that the key opens a trunk in the attic. Although Katie doesn’t think it’s a good idea to open the trunk, Adam does it anyway. He finds old photos and newspaper clippings. But the trunk has a removable shelf inside, and underneath the shelf is a pile of cash that was clearly meant to be hidden.

Adam knows that Leonard has no living heirs, so his first thought is to take the cash, because he knows it will be more than enough to solve the couple’s financial problems. The death of Leonard has left Katie and Adam without jobs, so Adam thinks that stealing the cash is the only way they can pay their bills. Katie is much more reluctant at first to take the money.

The main investigator to arrive on the scene is Detective Chesler (played by Sasha Alexander), who has the kind of tough-and-slightly tender cop demeanor that would make her right at home in a “Law & Order” series. When Detective Chesler finds out that Leonard has no living heirs, she gets slightly suspicious of Katie when she discovers that Katie has only been working for Leonard for a little more than four months. And the suspicions grow even more when Detective Chesler finds out that Katie had deposited a $7,000 check from Leonard the day before he died.

However, Leonard was 88 years old and on medication for health problems. Did he die of natural causes or something else? Pending an autopsy from the medical examiner, George tells Katie that his agency can’t place her in any more jobs until the investigation is closed and it’s ruled that no foul play was involved in Leonard’s death. Suddenly, that pile of hidden cash has become much more tempting, since Leonard had no known will.

The next day, when Katie isn’t home, Adam sees that she has left the keys to Leonard’s house on a table. He takes the keys to go back to Leonard’s house to count the cash, which totals almost $100,000. But while he’s counting the money, he hears someone break into the house, and then someone comes up behind him and knocks him unconscious.

When Katie finds out that happened, she’s furious at Adam, but she also knows that they’re desperate for money. She agrees to keep the cash, on this condition for how they would spend the money: “We would have to be very careful,” she tells Adam. Katie and Adam decide to take the money before it’s found, and they put it in a safe deposit box in a bank.

And then another unexpected thing happens: Katie is asked to meet with Julia Byron-Kim (played by Jamie Chung), who says she was hired by Leonard to be his attorney a few months before he died. Julia tells Katie that Leonard actually did have a will, and he made Katie his sole beneficiary. Katie can expect to get the inheritance money after the few months that the will goes through probate proceedings and pending the outcome of the medical examination.

Katie and Adam can’t believe their luck. They immediately move into Leonard’s mansion and start making plans for their future. Adam is very eager to spend the secret pile of cash they have. He’s so caught-up in his new-found wealth that he drops his plans to keep looking for a job, and he splurges on a luxury watch. Katie is more practical and cautious about spending the money, and she grows increasingly uncomfortable with what looks like greed taking over Adam’s mindset.

But, of course, in a story like this one, this luck comes at a huge cost. A series of events puts more suspicion on Katie and Adam for being possibly responsible for Leonard’s death. And that secret pile of cash is starting to make Katie have a very guilty conscience, which puts her at odds with Adam, who has no qualms about how they got the money.

Meanwhile, something strange happens that makes Adam and Katie wonder if someone is trying to set them up. Adam gets a call to go to the police station to do a follow-up statement on the armed robbery that he had foiled months before. But when he gets to the police station, Detective Chesler tells him that no one from the police department made the call. Adam doesn’t bother to tell Katie about this strange phone call, so when she finds out about it from Detective Chesler, she starts to mistrust Adam.

And as for the plot twists that are crammed in toward the end of the film, some of these “surprises” are more believable than others. “Dangerous Lies” (which was written by David Golden) follows a lot of familiar tropes of a Lifetime movie (where the female protagonist usually has to decide if her romantic partner is trustworthy or not), while adding in a very good level of suspense. The actors in “Dangerous Lies” don’t do a particularly outstanding job in their roles, but no one is outright horrible either. It’s the kind of made-for-TV movie that someone can watch to pass the time, but it won’t leave much of a lasting impression.

Netflix premiered “Dangerous Lies” on April 30, 2020.

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