Think of the documentary Love Etc as a real-life version of last year’s romantic comedy Valentine’s Day, with multiple characters and storylines about that certain something that makes the world go ’round. The difference is that Love Etc is actually good, and it may even be good for you.
In her first full-length feature, director Jill Andresevic follows various New York singles and couples ranging in age from 18 to 89 over the course of a year. Their different romantic situations are described onscreen as “Getting Married,” “Starting Over,” “Starting a Family,” “First Love” and “Lasting Love.”
An engaged Indian-American couple are seen preparing months in advance for a wedding that may be premature. A divorced construction worker hopes to hook up with the drop-dead gorgeous mother of his teenage son’s friend. A gay Broadway director expecting a surrogate baby wonders how parenthood will affect his chances of finding a partner. A cute high-school couple makes the most of the time they have left before one of them will be heading off to college. And a husband nearing his 50th wedding anniversary deals with his elderly wife’s transition into dementia.
The most interesting subject may be the cocky construction worker Ethan, whose good-natured bravado turns out to mask a soul that is heartbreakingly desperate to make a connection. He’s the kind of guy who insists he won’t be the first to call, but ends up doing it anyway.
Teenagers Gabriel and Danielle are not only puppy-love perfect but look as if they just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalog. If these two don’t have modeling agents, they should look into that career choice soon.
At the opposite end of life are the lively 79-year-old piano teacher Al and his physically and mentally challenged 89-year-old wife Marion, a pair of songwriters still hoping for their big break. Watching the way Al dotes on Marion shows that love isn’t all fun and games, but its responsibilities come with their own rewards.
It’s too bad the movie doesn’t include a segment devoted to a single woman’s search for love, especially considering that two such stories were cut from the finished film. DVD extras, anyone?
The excellent production values are up to network reality-TV standards, with impressive animated segues and a tasteful piano-and-strings score. Thankfully, however, the movie never resorts to the sort of staged-looking histrionics, deceptive editing tricks or goofy musical cues that make most reality shows seem so flagrantly fake. If Love Etc were to inspire a spin-off series that shows this movie’s level of respect for its subjects and their stories, the result could be must-see TV viewing.
Ethan sums up the message at the heart of Love Etc when he looks into the camera and directly addresses everyone in the audience. “All of you sitting there with a partner, be thankful,” he says. That may be the most profound thing you will hear in any movie this year.