Bleeding Love (2024, dir. Emma Westenberg)

by | Apr 10, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 102 mins

UK Distributor: Icon Film Distribution

UK Release Date: 12 April 2024

WHO’S IN BLEEDING LOVE?

Clara McGregor, Ewan McGregor, Kim Zimmer, Jake Weary, Devyn McDowell, Vera Bulder, Travis Hammer

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Emma Westenberg (director), Ruby Caster (writer), Mark Amin, Vera Bulder, Greg Lauritano, Clara McGregor, Mason Plotts, Christine Vachon and Cami Winikoff (producers), Rave Aartsen (composer), Chris Ripley (cinematographer), Autumn Dea (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A father (E. McGregor) and his addict daughter (C. McGregor) go on a road trip together…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON BLEEDING LOVE?

From Henry and Jane Fonda to Will and Jaden Smith, A-list actors appearing alongside their actual offspring in movies is far from a unique concept in Hollywood (and often fans the flames of that rather petty “nepo baby” discourse), but it is often a reliable marketing tool for audiences wanting a more familial side to their favourite movie stars.

Now, it’s Ewan McGregor’s turn to share the spotlight with his daughter Clara McGregor in director Emma Westenberg’s Bleeding Love, an intimate road trip drama that is often meandering and unfocused, but is held together by two impressively naturalistic turns by McGregors Sr. and Jr.

Ewan and Clara are respectively an unnamed father and daughter, who we first meet when they’re well into a car journey across the New Mexico landscape towards a secret (to her, anyway) location. Given the fact that she’s an opioid addict, having almost died from an overdose mere hours before, it’s not that hard to figure out where exactly he’s taking her, but the father – who’s just come back into his daughter’s life after abandoning her and her mother when she was a child – is desperately trying to reconnect with her on the way, even though she tries to make a run for it during regular pee breaks. Along the way, they encounter some peculiar locals, such as an eccentric tow truck operator who’s gifting her young nephew a shooting rifle, and a prostitute with ambitions to make it big on Broadway, and inevitably the father and daughter work through their shared issues together as they get further to their destination.

Deep within the familiar plot, one that follows the classic road-trip formula to the letter, there is the sense that the McGregors’ on-screen pairing isn’t just mere stunt casting. Clara McGregor is also credited as a contributor to the story within Ruby Caster’s script, so it is easy to see many parallels to her own rocky relationship with father Ewan, as well as their own real-life struggles with substance abuse and accepting their new families (his character in the film has had a young child with his current wife after leaving his previous spouse, a situation that the real Clara apparently found difficult to absorb). This is clearly a very personal project for both McGregors, and that is often felt in Ewan and Clara’s tender performances opposite each other, which are naturalistic and honest in both their nerviness and initial awkwardness around one another.

Both Ewan and Clara make for a capable double-act, which is beneficial to an otherwise scattershot movie. Despite some atmospheric New Mexico cinematography, Westenberg – making her feature directorial debut after previously making music videos for the likes of Janelle Monáe in addition to episodes of shows like Dollface – struggles to hold the viewer’s attention with a narrative that is more episodic in nature than cinematic. There will occasionally be some bursts of stylistic inspiration, such as flashbacks to happier father-daughter relations that are shot like a Terrence Malick movie, and a scene wherein a minor character dances in slow-motion with conspicuous lighting and glitter filling up the frame, but such moments are fleeting in a film that largely consists of the main characters driving along, often without saying very much, before making some unplanned stops, and then repeating until the next big plot beat.

Furthermore, while the performances are strong, the characters that Ewan and Clara McGregor play are too vague to become fully engrossed in. Even as more is revealed about them during the film, there’s rarely a moment where it’s as though you truly know a whole lot about their dynamic, other than what little is eventually explained. Hell, we go the whole movie without even knowing their names, let alone their personalities or what other things they enjoy in life, so beyond their clear struggles with addition and sobriety, there isn’t much to them as actual characters to warrant a whole lot of dramatic interest.

It all makes Bleeding Love slightly frustrating to sit through, because you’re desperately wanting to be on board with this film that clearly means a lot to these filmmakers, especially the two leads who have poured a lot of their own past issues into a pair of committed turns, but there just isn’t enough intrigue in the main plot or with the fictional characters that they’re playing to really get the blood pumping.

I can’t fault it for much else, because on the surface it is a gentle and well-meaning road trip movie; I just wish that it had a bit more going on underneath it.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Bleeding Love is a well-meaning road trip drama that is clearly a personal project for co-stars Ewan and Clara McGregor, with both father and daughter impressing in a pair of naturalistic turns, but a scattershot approach and lack of intrigue with these main characters make it slightly frustrating to watch.

Three out of five stars

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