How one’s life plays out can never be predicted. Death, however, is guaranteed. Director Cory Choy’s “Esme, My Love” explores the bond between mother and daughter and how death is always one step behind us. The finality of life dictates our actions, manipulating our human connections. Choy examines these prescient themes through his two-character piece, using his main characters as symbols of how the finality of life dictates our actions, manipulating human connections. Deep subjecst to be sure, but the filmmaker cannot stick the landing.
Learning her daughter is dying, Hannah (Stacey Weckstein) takes Esme (Audrey Grace Marshall) on a trip into the woods to visit her grandparents’ old house.
From the opening moment, things are strange, immediately setting the film’s somber and off-balanced tone.
Esme calls her mom ‘Hannah’ and is occasionally reminded, “Call me mom.” Hannah is preoccupied with whatever she has in store and seems to be carrying an emotional weight as defeating as Esme’s supposedly short future.
Hannah tells Esme about her sister, Emily, and how much she resembles her. The little girl never knew her mother had a sister and is curious to learn more, though Hannah isn’t a wealth of information.
Choy wants to find a balance of the supernatural and the profound. The director peppers the piece with scenes of ghostly apparitions, bad dreams, and wannabe Malick-esque moments of the characters walking through nature while spouting pseudo-philosophical dialogue. Lines such as, “The world is a strange place… so confusing without guidance…” and “Our family’s roots run deep. Now they’re all but forgotten.” fall flat.
Much of Stacy Weckstein’s performance is an annoying assembly of pained, wide-eyed looks and repetitive calling of Esme’s name. Hannah’s mood changes repeatedly, going from an almost emotional hypnosis to alarming determination. Unfortunately, Weckstein cannot navigate such a complicated character.
The actress’s line readings fluctuate from bland to hammy. The moment where Weckstein is on her knees trying to communicate with a water snake elicits unintended chuckles, while most of her performance plays like a novice’s first time trying to act. This dreadful miscasting hurts the importance of Hannah’s descent into darkness.
The major problem with “Esme, My Love” becomes the screenplay’s inability to back up the picture’s lofty aspirations.
Written by Laura Allen and the director, the combination of family secrets, childhood trauma, and literal ghosts of the past are not explored in interesting ways. Allen and Choy’s text sets out on a few interesting paths, but fails to find a destination, as the screenplay asks more questions than it answers. Ambiguity has a place in certain films, and I appreciate works that leave their true meaning up to the viewer. The issue with Choy’s film is how it drowns in its vagueness.
Fletcher Wolfe’s camerawork is one of the few things that works. The cinematographer creates interesting frames, giving the natural surroundings a delicate beauty of sometimes Néstor Almendros quality. Wolfe’s interesting compositions occasionally make up for the overuse of the film’s handheld style. I wish the director had found symmetry in the story and the imagery.
While the film is never boring, it is too often frustrating. The unanswered questions pile up and the picture never makes good on its early promises.
A miscast lead role, a bland score (complete with a sickeningly earnest final song), and unassured filmmaking ultimately sink this one.
“Esme, My Love” takes an interesting path, but ends up on a road to nowhere.
Esme, My Love
Written by Laura Allen and Cory Choy
Directed by Cory Choy
Starring Audrey Grace Marshall & Stacy Weckstein
NR, 105 Minutes, Silver Sound