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Review: Bleeding Love – “Captivating work from Clara and Ewan McGregor”

Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor in Bleeding Love.

Road trip movies are nothing new. Neither are those films that explore addiction and recovery.  However, what makes Bleeding Love unique is in fact the starring duo of real-life father and daughter Ewan and Clara McGregor.  Yes, you could dismiss this film as being a bit of a vanity project, a launching point for Clara’s film career and you wouldn’t be wrong.  This isn’t her first credit, but it is certainly the most significant.  However, it’s also deserved.  For as well as inheriting Ewan’s beaming smile and blue eyes, she also seems to have acquired and honed the familial talent for acting.  These two are the reason to see Bleeding Love, overshadowing its shortcomings.

The film follows an unnamed father and daughter on the road as they make their way from San Diego to Sante Fe, New Mexico.  The pair are estranged, and the daughter is clearly detached.  Headphones in and music blaring she makes it clear she doesn’t wish to be there, nor does she wish to reunite with her dad, who is failing in knowing how to talk to his 20-year-old.  Just hours before they started their trip, the daughter was in hospital, recovering from a drug overdose.  Now, in an attempt to save her, as much from herself as anything else, the father tries to find common ground that isn’t their shared history of substance abuse.

But, like most good road trip movies, this is more about the journey than the destination.  Through their conversations, we learn of Ewan’s character having left his wife and daughter many years before as he dealt with his alcoholism.  He now has a new wife and child, a landscaping business, a stable life that she is not a part of, that she resents.  As the two make their way across the desert, mostly in isolation, they reconnect, each uncovering hard truths about themselves along the way.

Directed by Emma Westenberg, Bleeding Love relies heavily on the strength of the obvious connection between the McGregors.  Yet, Westenberg has a clear vision for her film, sticking close to her stars in claustrophobic framing, much appearing from inside the vehicle they spend most of the film driving.  It feels somewhat gritty, and yet she makes colours pop, especially blues – the blue of the sky, the truck and her stars’ previously mentioned eyes.  It’s a stylized finish that mostly works, even if it sometimes feels a little forced.

The first half of the film works best, even though it is leisurely paced, it allows the McGregors to relish their craft, and it slowly reveals the truth of their relationship.  The flashbacks meant to visually convey their history seem unnecessary, and take up time that could have been better spent exploring the off-screen relationships of the ex-wife and new partner which are barely touched upon but seemed an interesting direction.  The same can be said for some of the eclectic characters that the father and daughter run into in their travels.  They largely don’t offer much to forward the momentum of the film, save for Vera Bulder who plays a sex worker, Tommy, and who lightens the mood during her brief screen time.

While Bleeding Love doesn’t really offer us anything new, and is let down by a less-than-stellar script, there is enough captivating work from Clara and Ewan McGregor to keep things interesting and anchor it in honesty.  And, if nothing else, there is a wonderfully heart-warming moment where the pair sing the Leona Lewis tune that gives this film its title.  That Ewan’s character brags about his daughter at moments in this film likely wasn’t an acting stretch for him.  If Bleeding Love leads to bigger and better things for Clara McGregor, then it will be wholly deserved.  The apple may not fall far from the tree, but she has the talent to grow from here all on her own.

Bleeding Love premiered at SXSW with its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival on March 2nd.  It is released in UK cinemas April 12, 2024.

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