‘Bleeding Love’ Review: On the Road With Dad

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This week’s Valentine blues arrive courtesy of “Bleeding Love,” a father-daughter story about love, lies and family trauma starring a real father-daughter duo. The dramatic duet opens with the nameless father (Ewan McGregor) already behind the wheel of his pickup truck with his nameless, angrily sullen daughter (Clara McGregor) riding shotgun. They’re on a highway headed toward Santa Fe, N.M., though it soon becomes evident that they’re also on the road to reconciliation — that byway many indie-film families travel in order to heal.

Sincere and grindingly predictable, this particular journey mixes tears and reams of dialogue, accusations and confessions with the usual roadside attractions, including a convenience store, a quirky motel and some lightly offbeat American types. The daughter has a serious addiction problem that she won’t acknowledge despite the hospital wristband she’s wearing and the booze and pills she pilfers. Her dad has heavy issues, too, as well as a new family, and after years of being estranged from the daughter, he is unsure how to close the divide between them. So, they drive and they talk while stealing glances at each other. The miles rack up.

Written by Ruby Caster and directed by Emma Westenberg, “Bleeding Love” drifts and lurches for a wearying 102 minutes. This is Westenberg’s feature directing debut (she’s also made commercials and music videos), and she handles the material with generic professionalism. She and her director of photography, Christopher Ripley, give the movie a pretty, diffused visual glow that, like the script, helps soften anything that could seem too unpleasant or potentially off-putting. The movie could use some roughness, particularly given the lifetime of heartache and grievances that the daughter voices amid cigarette drags.

There are moments when Ewan McGregor’s performance — with its glints of hurt and anger — points to a tougher, truer, more nuanced movie than the one you’re watching. Clara McGregor generally has to go bigger and louder than her father, and she’s fine, though whenever her character threatens to become gnarly, the movie retreats, as if someone were worried at giving offense. It’s too bad, especially because it’s hard to see why this movie was made other than to expand Clara McGregor’s résumé. (She helped write the story with Caster and Vera Bulder, as served as a producer.) I genuinely wish her well, and better material.

Bleeding Love
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.

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