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Love Streams (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on June 24, 2012

Robert (John Cassavetes) is a successful novelist (dealing mainly, it’s implied, with trashy romances), who populates his spacious house with prostitutes and doesn’t know how to start loving.  He’s quick to develop affection and quick to abandon it, no strings attached… not even to his son.  His sister Sarah (Gena Rowlands) is going through a divorce, and her daughter would rather live with her father (Seymour Cassel) than put up with another minute of her mother’s zaniness.  You see, Sarah doesn’t know how to stop loving.  She acts on desperate impulses, and when her mad attempts to gain approval and acceptance fail, she’s prone to collapsing.  When Sarah unexpectedly drops in on Robert, we see that perhaps the only people these two can properly love and be loved by are each other.  But even that will be messy.

Cassavetes reinforces Robert’s emotional distance by emphasizing his inability to occupy the physical space with others.  He’s almost constantly on the move, prowling from one room to another.  The moment Sarah shows up, he whisks his son off to Las Vegas.  The moment they arrive, he’s off to find a party and some hookers.  He can’t decide if he wants to dance with his partner or watch her perform solo.  Pushing and pulling, anxious to make connections but utterly unable to commit to them.  For Sarah, it’s mostly pulling, always trying to draw others into her world, whether it’s telling the bowling alley attendant her troubles or roping a cabbie into her plans to shower her brother with livestock.

The sound design also interferes with connections… the music doesn’t miraculously get quieter when the phone rings, the noise of crumpling paper or thunderstorms can drown out conversations.  People talk over each other, not with precision timing like Hawks, but in stumbling, manic chaos.  It can be wearying to the viewer, but it services the film’s simmering intensity, which comes and goes in waves.

Cassavetes and Rowlands are, of course, phenomenal.  The director’s failing health may give him a somewhat gaunt appearance, but his acting is fully vital and on target.  And Rowlands, well… I just can’t get enough of her.  The character is not unlike Mabel in Woman Under the Influence, but the lack of responsibility on her shoulders (and the lack of a frustrated Peter Falk) makes her seem less crazy.  The character is clearly unhinged, but in this context her impulsive acts have less damaging consequences… except to herself and her heartbreaking need to be loved.  It’s never overplayed, we don’t see her on her knees begging for affection or anything like that.  But we do witness her desires brought to life in a stunning operatic dream sequence.  Not something you expect to see in a Cassavetes film, but masterfully done and very moving. 

Despite feeling a bit drawn out at times and a couple of subpar supporting performances (not Cassel or Diahnne Abbott, though) it’s a wonderful swan song for one of cinema’s finest teams and most talented couples.  Rating: Great

IMDb
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