Leaving Judd Apatow’s approach to familial filmmaking in the dust, Mark Webber’s The End Of Love casts the writer-director opposite his 2-year-old son, Isaac, in a story that parallels the end of his relationship with the child’s mother, actress Frankie Shaw. But where Webber and Shaw simply split in real life, the movie’s Mark is a widower, a single father whose acting career is more of a struggle than Webber’s.
With Webber’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World costars Michael Cera and Aubrey Plaza, as well as Amanda Seyfried, playing themselves—or, in Cera’s case, a version of himself who pulls out a loaded handgun at a house party—The End Of Love could have come off as a Young Hollywood vanity project. But the guest-star wattage only deepens the shadows around Webber’s character. His finances already low, he blows a profanity-laden audition with Seyfried by bringing his son along, and lies to his friends about having landed a part in the new P.T. Anderson film when his agent has just told him he’s out of the running. His personal life is even more of a mess. He gets a dinner date with single mom Shannyn Sossamon, but spoils the mood when he blurts out a marriage proposal in the middle of their first kiss.
In short, Webber’s character is dangling over the abyss, too proud to ask others for help, and too tapped-out to help himself. He begs his son for five more minutes of sleep, or tries to substitute breakfast cereal for more labor-intensive oatmeal, but he’s stretched too thin, to the point that getting his car towed almost drains his bank account. When Webber was a child, he and his mother, Philadelphia homeless-rights activist Cheri Honkala, lived on the street, and that possibility hovers over Webber’s character as his unsympathetic housemates grow tired of carrying his debt.
The threat is brought home by the extraordinary intimacy and tenderness with which The End Of Love captures the relationship between father and son. There’s a good reason toddlers aren’t seen onscreen much; they’re too young to take direction, and too old to be swaddled. But when Webber pulls his screaming son out of the house for a midnight drive, he’s the only one acting. The blurry line between fact and fiction may cause the audience discomfort, but unlike his filmic counterpart, the real Isaac has a home to go back to. Shot with tiny digital cameras to minimize the sense of intrusion, The End Of Love sometimes feels like a home movie, but that’s also the source of its strength.