Bleeding Love Is Nothing New

Clara McGregor and Ewan McGregor as Daughter and Father in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK.

Bleeding Love wants to drift more than tell a story. Occasionally that works. This is a movie about someone who doesn’t want to admit to being adrift, so an aimless aspect feels right. There’s even a lost at sea impression given by a regularly swaying camera. Meanwhile, some solid acting helps when moviemakers strive for a fly-on-the-wall realism. However, when it comes time to give the film some focus, Bleeding Love leads to nowhere terribly interesting.

The story centers on a father and daughter road trip. Their conversations make it clear the two are estranged. They’ve been flung back together in the wake of the daughter overdosing. Struggling with addiction, inherited from her father, this trip is a way for the two to deal with the wreckage of their shared past as well as contend with tomorrow—going to rehab or sinking further into the black hole of substance abuse.

Clara McGregor as Daughter in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK. Daughter wanders the desert a bit looking sad and lost.
Clara McGregor as Daughter in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK.

The roles portrayed by real life father and daughter Ewan and Clara McGregor are simply named Daughter and Father. Such an odd choice almost hints at how shallow the characters are. Though well-acted, the script by Ruby Caster offers nothing more than generic types. Daughter is an artist struggling with addiction she inherited from her now sober Father who abandoned the family years back. It sounds like any of a dozen movies, especially indie flicks. Bleeding Love never sets itself apart by giving the two main characters a chance to be unique.

It’s unfortunate since the movie touches on several themes. Perhaps the most prevalent is how hard it can be to admit to mistakes. There’re also ways in which wounds can give people the fuel to self-righteously self-destruct. Deep as these themes may be, Bleeding Love fails to personalize them outside of generic backstory.

Technically, the overly familiar plotline leaves plenty of room for characters to unfold without narrative getting in the way. Some of the opening dialogue is especially good at informing the audience without outright stating facts. The way Daughter pokes at Father with sarcastic barbs reveals her personality as well as their past. His reactions provide similar insights thanks to quality acting expressing the unspoken. But this well written dialogue eventually gives way for less personal and more predictable exchanges centering on addiction. Most of which merely roll the wheel forward.

Ewan McGregor as Father in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK. Father in his fur lined denim jacket, strolling the motel parking lot.
Ewan McGregor as Father in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK.

Some flashbacks do suggest bits of their backstory. There is also an unsurprising emotional breakdown at one point that delivers expected exposition, but little really sets this pair apart from decades of similar estranged family members. Plus, there’s no sense of the main characters starting to understand one another better like in Nebraska (2013) or Kodachrome (2017).

Director Emma Westenberg seems to be striving into the cinema territory first explored by the likes of Richard Linklater. That place where tales of the aimless are told with a shade of realism meant to give them authenticity. Stranger’s Arms (2018), Westenberg’s previous full-length feature ventured into that realm as well.

Attempts to stylize Bleeding Love don’t add much to the story. Too often the camera is swaying between the main characters in a way that seems determined to make someone need Dramamine. Frequent closeups and out of focus shots occasionally add another layer, but more often feel like someone trying to make the imagery seem evocative, active, or perhaps even visually poetic when nothing is happening on screen. The consequence is a movie with shallowly explored characters padded by more or less meaningless imagery.

Clara McGregor and Ewan McGregor as Daughter and Father in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK. Father and Daughter lean against a pickup truck in the desert, staring off wistfully.
Clara McGregor and Ewan McGregor as Daughter and Father in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK.

The main problem here is that the story itself doesn’t have much propulsion. The central premise doesn’t provide enough to really drive this picture forward. On the one hand, the narrative has been told every which way there is. Clever camera work can’t overcome a stale storyline. And although certain elements contemporize events, there’s little freshness to the script. Plot banality might be okay if the characters were more interesting or told intriguing tales. However, Bleeding Love never strives into any significant character exploration.

There’s a small attempt to add interesting encounters along the road trip. To some degree they give insight into the main roles—spoiler warning—such as when Daughter plays coy with a birthday clown played by Jake Weary. She flirts to get booze from him, showing her potential for manipulating people to feed her addiction. Yet, it amounts to a scene rather than character development since this aspect of her personality never comes into play again.

Still, Daughter does get the most exploration. Though that said, Bleeding Love sometimes feels like a demo reel for Clara McGregor. While that may sound negative, she does display a certain ease on screen. During the big predictable emotional breakdown her performance falters a tick, but overall, she expresses a carefree charm that is more fragile bravado than reckless addict.

Pickup truck driving through the desert in Bleeding Love (2023). Image courtesy of R&CPMK.
 Image courtesy of R&CPMK.

Ewan McGregor as Father manages to give the role more depth than I suspect is in the script. No stranger to playing addicts, what really makes his performance shine is his reaction to Daughter’s lines. The panic and hurt he leaves unspoken hit harder than any line could. That isn’t to say his portrayal is flawless, though there’s little to criticize without nitpicking. The point being, it’s the interactions between the two that keep Bleeding Love afloat.

Cinematically, there’s little to see other than filler trying to pass for poetic imagery. Scripted dialogue is wonderful throughout the beginning, but eventually gives way to hitting plot points pushing towards a conclusion. The story soon seems less like characters reacting, and more like people trapped in the confines of formula. It just would have been nice if Father and Daughter shared more than banal details about their lives. Still, the authenticity of the relationship between them helps Bleeding Love feel genuine.

Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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