Love and Other Impossible Pursuits * * 1/2

Genre: Drama

Director: Don Roos

Writer: Don Roos, based on the novel of the same name by Ayelet Waldman

Cast: Natalie Portman, Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan, Lisa Kudrow

Running Length: 102 minutes

Synopsis: Emilia (Natalie Portman) is a Harvard law school graduate and a newlywed, having just married Jack (Scott Cohen), a high-powered New York lawyer, who was her boss – and married – when she began working at his law firm. Unfortunately, her life takes an unexpected turn when Jack and Emilia lose their newborn daughter. Emilia struggles through her grief to connect with her new stepson William (Charlie Tahan), but is finding it hard to connect with this precocious child. Emilia is also trying to overcome a long-standing rift in her relationship with her father caused by his infidelity. But perhaps the most difficult obstacle of all for Emilia is trying to cope with the constant interferences of her husband’s angry, jealous ex-wife, Carolyn (Lisa Kudrow).

Review: Although filmed before Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning performance in Black Swan, Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (thankfully the film isn’t released under the pedestrian American release title of The Other Woman) seemed to have languished for some time since its inception in 2009, and its release now seems timed to cash in on Portman’s increased bankability since her Academy Award success. It’s a pretty certain bet that most audiences would be watching this film based solely on the fact that it features Natalie Portman, her performance here is good but not spectacular, which pretty much describes the rest of the film as well.

One of the greater weaknesses of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is its structure – although there are many dramatic incidents that occur, the timeline feels unrealistic and many of the plot threads are eventually given short shrift. Too much reliance is placed on Portman delivering one tearful, emotionally charged scene after another, and because these incidents aren’t given enough breathing room, the entire film gets bogged down with overt melodrama.

It also doesn’t help that apart from Portman’s more faceted performance, the rest of the characters are nothing more than caricatures. Carolyn is portrayed as a controlling, paranoid ex-wife who always seems on the verge of hysterics, and this is done to such an extent that when she finally displays a more humane side (in which Lisa Kudrow shines in what’s probably the best scene in the entire film), it does not feel believable at all. This is true even of Charlie Tahan, whose character is pivotal to the film, and yet is obviously delivering lines that no real 8 year old kid would be uttering – no matter how smart or precocious.

That said, the scenes where Portman and Tahan interact manage to work quite well, although Portman may have just been a little too good at being cold and distant for audiences to ever truly empathize with her situation. The film also manages to give a slightly more measured look at the changed dynamics of a family from the home wrecker’s point of view, which isn’t something that is seen in most other movies dealing with similar subject matter.  

Rating: * * 1/2 (out of four stars)

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