Emilia (Natalie Portman), a young lawyer living in New York, has a lot on her plate. She is grieving the loss of her infant daughter Isabel who tragically died only a few days after birth, and her despair is beginning to cause a strain on her marriage to Jack (Scott Cohen). Not only is she grappling with this seemingly unbearable tragedy, she is also attempting to form a relationship with her sensitive young stepson William (a very convincing Charlie Tahan), while warding off the sneers of the women in her neighbourhood and the bitter admonishments of Jack’s ex-wife Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow in angry Phoebe mode). It quickly transpires through flashback that Jack was still married to Carolyn when he and Emilia began their love affair and now Emilia has earned a reputation for being a homewrecker. It is clear that she is suffering from the difficult and painful consequences of a relationship born from infidelity. She also has an overbearing father complex that doesn’t remotely justify but explains some of her actions.

Admittedly, I had not read the book of the same title by Ayelet Waldman, nor was I familiar with the story before watching this, so I had absolutely no expectations. This is one of those movies that leaves you muddled; I found myself immediately questioning my ability to sympathise with a young woman who has wilfully seduced a married man, torn apart a family, and still expects affection from her distressed stepson. While I can certainly sympathise with a woman grieving for the loss of her baby, Emilia’s behaviour throughout the movie does not make her a wonderfully appealing character. Bearing in mind that this is a woman in the midst of a grievous and life-altering tragedy, flashbacks from before Isabel was even born would still indicate this is a fairly reckless and often thoughtless individual.

Portman has displayed her prowess as a compelling actress on many occasions and she excels in this role; it is a performance that pulls firmly on the heartstrings and to some extent it works. The relationship between Emilia and William is portrayed in a realistic and sensitive fashion; Emilia finds it difficult to maintain the balance between friend and mother figure, and while William regards her with suspicion, he shows a willingness to engage with her; like any child he only craves affection and acceptance. As the movie progresses your sympathies change as you are forced to accept the reality that good people do bad things and carry the burden of their actions around with them – they berate and judge themselves just as much as others berate and judge them.

This movie looks at the uglier side of humanity, the bad choices, the outbursts, the manipulation and the cruelty that even people with the best of intentions can exhibit. However it also deals with love, and strives for hope. Human beings are fractured creatures and it can be difficult to accept that. It is also a movie about forgiveness, how hard it can be to offer it to another and how a life without it – forgiveness of another and of the self – can be raw and despairing.

That said I couldn’t say I particularly loved any of the characters in this movie, but I appreciated the concept and the intention. There is a sense, perhaps, that this is trying to be cleverer than it is, and while it does touch on some interesting ideas it never lingers long enough on any of them to really analyse them satisfactorily. It would seem it is simply trying to concentrate on too much in a ninety-minute space.

I didn’t find this movie particularly original, but it is a thought-provoking and poignant glimpse into how ordinary people cope in difficult situations, and it’s worth mentioning that it is also beautifully shot. Ultimately this movie is a stark reminder that in life nothing is black and white, and even grey comes in many shades.

Emma O’Donoghue

Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is released on DVD & Blu-Ray on 29th August 2011

• Format: PAL
• Region: Region 2
• Number of discs: 1
• Classification: 18
• Studio: Showbox
• DVD Release Date: 29th Aug 2011


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