Thursday, March 07, 2024

Love Lies Bleeding, Co-Starring Ed Harris

1989 was a great year for most Americans. The Berlin Wall came down, we had a president we could respect, and the movies were consistently entertaining. However, Lou is going through some tough times, largely because of her beyond dysfunctional family and its criminal activities. She finally meets someone she really likes, but the stranger has plenty of her own baggage in Rose Glass’s Love Lies Bleeding, which opens tomorrow in theaters.

In 1989, the steroid scandals had yet to rock cycling and MLB. Yet, juicing was already a fairly open (if dirty) secret in the bodybuilding world, even in the grubby desert-town gym Lou manages. One day she notices Jackie, a drifter with ambitions of competing in an upcoming women’s contest in Vegas. The attraction is indeed mutual. Unfortunately, Lou introduces Jackie to steroids during their early courtship, which will have dangerous implications when their relationship comes under stress.

Much of that stress will come from Lou’s family, particularly her brother-in-law J.J., who physically and emotionally abuses her sister Beth, and her slimy kingpin father Lou Sr. The old man runs a lot of highly illegal business out of his gun range. Jackie happens to work there as a waitress in the canteen. All that pre-existing family tension will soon boil over, leading to one-darned-thing-after-another, including murder.

There is some deep grunge in
Love Lies Bleeding—like Grand Canyon deep. This is sleazy, lurid stuff, just as Glass intended it. However, she takes viewers on a wild third-act flight of fancy that is a bridge too-far-out there. She should have stuck with what was working, because all the needles and grime are massively provocative.

Of course, the great Ed Harris makes a terrific villain, strutting through the picture as Lou Sr. Glass gives him a lot of color, like his massive hair extensions and a weird love of bug-collecting, but Harris plays him with shrewd understatement. As a result, his quiet hardnosed-ness is absolutely magnetic on-screen. Likewise, Dave Franco is exceptionally slimy as the irredeemable, mullet-sporting J.J.

Both Katy O’Brian and Anna Baryshnikov are massive tangles of neuroses as Jackie and Lou’s torch-carrying ex, Daisy. Throughout the film, many viewers will wonder why O’Brian was not cast as She-Hulk, but it was probably just as well for her. Sadly, Kristen Stewart tries to dial it down even further than Harris playing his estranged daughter, but it does not work nearly as well. Instead of seething and slow-burning, she comes off moody and dour. Unfortunately, that also negatively impacts the credibility of her relationship with Jackie.

This is the kind of film that will make many viewers feel like having a tetanus booster after watching it, if it hasn’t given them a lasting aversion to needles.
Love Lies Bleeding is not pretty, but it packs a punch, at least when Glass sticks to her grimy aesthetic. Recommended for fans of art-house retro-slumming hicksploitation, Love Lies Bleeding opens tomorrow (3/8) in New York, at the AMC Lincoln Square.