Playing the bleary-eyed single father of a talky 2-year-old, writer-director-actor Mark Webber fills the sippy cup less than halfway with “The End of Love,” which too often toddles over the fine line between cute and cloying before finding its footing in the final reel. Oddly overstuffed with cameos by bigscreen actors playing tongue-in-cheek versions of themselves, Webber’s Los Angeles-set, microbudget dramedy delivers some rare and beautiful moments of daddy day-care, but its tone shifts more wildly than a preschooler’s disposition and its narrative is stillborn. Despite intermittent strengths, the pic won’t grow to maturation in the marketplace.
Particularly in its early scenes, whenever Patrice Lucien Cochet’s handheld camera stops to focus on the kid’s swinging legs or chubby cheeks, Webber’s doculike film, bathed in natural light, purveys baby love in its purest form, a feat that’s strangely uncommon in American movies. It’s in Webber’s attempt to render his own character as a full-grown infant that the pic falters, resulting in fidgety scenes that strain both credibility and the viewer’s interest.
Webber stars as Mark, a struggling actor whose wife has recently passed away, leaving him in sole care of little Isaac (Isaac Love, a genius among 2-year-old thesps). Sleepless, strung-out, and cash-strapped, Mark brings the boy along on errands and to a failed audition with Amanda Seyfried (playing herself). A subsequent visit to the gravesite of Isaac’s mom swiftly pushes sentiment into sentimentality, but that’s nothing compared with the syrupy meet-cute of Mark and Lydia (Shannyn Sossamon), a smiley single mom who runs a day-care facility and responds immediately and fully to Mark’s embarrassingly awkward advances.
The film’s charm wears thinner still as Mark, entrusting Isaac to a babysitter he barely knows, attends a party at the swanky home of his movie-star buddy Michael (Michael Cera) and proceeds to get drunk and high, flirting with old flame Jocelin (Jocelin Donahue) before passing out. It’s not until morning that Mark stumbles home to his kid in a scene that brings the pic to within spittle distance of the Safdie brothers’ parentally incorrect indie “Daddy Longlegs.”
Eventually Mark, however perversely, resolves to teach his toddler about death and to deal with its tragedy himself, as Webber brings the pic to a conclusion that’s satisfying, but not enough to smooth over the preceding rough patches.
If tech credits appear a touch sloppy, that’s hardly inappropriate to the messiness that comes with caring for a 2-year-old. Weirder is the fact that young Love, even when bawling, delivers the film’s most focused perf.