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Connection and rediscovery in ‘Bleeding Love’

A+father+%28Ewan+McGregor%29+and+his+daughter+%28Clara+McGregor%29+reconnect+during+a+road+trip+across+the+country+to+seek+the+help+she+needs.
Courtesy of Vertical Entertainment
A father (Ewan McGregor) and his daughter (Clara McGregor) reconnect during a road trip across the country to seek the help she needs.
3.5 out of 5.0 stars

Keeping with the general feelings in the air that come around for Valentine’s Day, director Emma Westenberg, best known for television series “Long Slow Exhale” and “Dollface,” comes back Feb. 16 with “Bleeding Love,” a film that explores the complex relationship regarding a father and his estranged daughter. 

Our two leads, played by Ewan and Clara McGregor, depict the epilogue of a traumatic event in which Daughter, played by Clara, recovers from an overdose. Desperate to save his daughter from the life he once lived, Father, played by Ewan, takes her on a road trip across the country to get her the help she needs. The tensions that exist from their lack of connection to each other, and the resulting events that take place as a failure to communicate, make up the bulk of the story. Telling a story about fatherhood, abandonment and the steps we take to recover from trauma, Westenberg’s emotional core for the film is not far away from home. 

The main conflict comes from the daughter’s anger with her father because of him being absent for the vast majority of her life. In her eyes, he chose to run when she and her mother needed him the most. In the opposite lens, Ewan’s character believes wholeheartedly that his actions were the right thing to do, as his constant drinking habits were creating problems for the whole family – thinking it was something he could not stop unless he ran away from everything. 

This difference creates a rift that needs to be fixed between Father and Daughter, and their dynamic growing and evolving over the course of the story as they come to recognize each other stands as the strongest part of the movie. The father develops from an absentee parent who can barely understand why his daughter made the choices she has, to not simply understanding her, but making actions to let her know that he won’t leave her side again. It’s a strong character arc that works toward the movie’s benefit.

The daughter also has a solid arc of her own, initially running away from every problem in her life and hiding behind what’s comfortable: her previous life and the drugs that occupied it. As she continues the road trip with her father, and as he opens up regarding his own experiences with addiction, she comes to realize that the right choice is almost never the easiest — a very powerful lesson to learn for any growing adult.

On top of the strong central conflict, Westenberg’s cinematography is exceptional. Most shots are close-ups of a character’s face, expressing strong emotions and giving us a sense of what an individual’s mental state might be. Clara’s character is oftentimes filmed up close with a shaky camera style, representing her fractured mental state and her own spinning mind, desperately searching for amenities to make life easier. The camera becomes more stable around her as she finally makes the hard choice to stick with her father’s plan, the cinematography complimenting her character’s arc.

In terms of performances, “Bleeding Love” is certainly a mixed bag. Ewan and Clara’s father-daughter bond in real life provides a little extra to their roles as Father and Daughter, with both solidly encapsulating the awkwardness that comes with trying to understand each other. They have good chemistry for the most part; however, for certain moments in the film, it feels as if they draw too much off their relationship in real life to make their character’s relationship work. 

As a result, certain scenes don’t feel like natural progression for our characters, seemingly moving too fast. Ewan’s individual performance is quite fantastic, as you can feel his life regrets burning under the surface with every scene he’s in. Clara’s capabilities, however, stand as inconsistent, with some scenes having a better performance than others. 

Unfortunately for this film, it suffers from a crippling lack of pace. Certain scenes will drag on for too long in an attempt to make the audience feel the crushing weight of the daughter’s addiction, yet most of this material feels repetitive. The scenes would hold the same meaning if they were shorter and would help hold audience retention as well. The pace is also negatively affected by the inclusion of certain scenes altogether. The scenes with Vera Bulder’s character feel as if they don’t belong and add nothing to the story as a whole. That segment in particular has our leads running into a strange woman who does not provide anything to the overall plot or our character’s arcs.

As a whole, this movie stands as a solid story of understanding and regrowth, banking on the performances of the leads and the conflict they establish through their relationship. Although it’s held back by its poor pacing issues, “Bleeding Love” stands as a solid entry to Westenberg’s catalog. 

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