Directors Andy Delaney and Monty Whitebloom’s “Love Is Blind” should perhaps be titled “Love Is Arbitrary.” There’s no reasoning to how and why love manifests or dissipates in relationships, in much the same way the film’s character motivations flip and flop as script convenience calls. A hastily-assembled mix of romantic whimsy and offbeat quirk drives this drama about a young woman with selective ocular perception who struggles to recognize the broken people who populate her purview. Her ability to see only what she wants directly correlates to the film’s selective reasoning when it comes to contrivance and cloying poignancy.
Elizabeth Krafft (Shannon Tarbet), known to her friends as “Bess,” lives in an idyllic small town in upstate New York with her ailing father Murray (Matthew Broderick) and an albino peacock named Argus. She suffers from a rare disorder that affects her ability to see people who physically exist. Her discriminating blindness has caused a rift between Bess and her caring mother Carolyn (Chloë Sevigny). Ten years prior, a mysterious traumatic event scarred Bess into believing Carolyn died when she really hadn’t. Murray is caught in the middle of their fractured relationship, which proves difficult as he’s about to have a life-threatening operation without a peaceful resolution in place.
Bess has been working on her affliction with an autistic psychotherapy research assistant, Farmer Smithson (Benjamin Walker). His immersive techniques to heal her malfunctioning mind follow a precise, rigorous routine — using such unorthodox methods as simulating rebirth by laying on top of her tightly cocooned body as she struggles to break free of his weight and bondage. She’s also in love with him (in the way that patients in movies sometimes fall in love with their therapists), but he’s reticent to reciprocate, mainly because of his career.
Their therapy sessions change once misanthropic, caustic construction worker Russell Hank (Aidan Turner) barrels into town. He’s a suicidal man with many deep, provoking thoughts, ones that may elicit eye rolls from the audience. He’s demolishing the business next door, but really he’s on a personal self-destructive quest, taunting fate by blowing through intersections at red lights and strangling himself with a telephone cord. The tear-down functions primarily as a metaphor, practically screaming and patting itself on the back for its allegorical value.
Farmer can’t resist the urge to fix this stranger. However, it’s not until Russell spots beautiful Bess entering Farmer’s office that Russell becomes convinced he can change. Thinking these two broken souls can heal each other, Farmer prescribes them to hang out together. Only there’s a big problem: Bess’ current condition applies to Russell as well. Their conversations will be one-sided, which then leads Russell into some fairly troublesome, creepy, stalker-like behavior, at least to the audience watching this story unfold. The filmmakers, on the other hand, think it’s romantic.
The men in Bess’ life almost exclusively drive her decisions, which seems to run contradictory to Delaney, Whitebloom and screenwriter Jennifer Schuur’s clear idea that she’s cast in a power position as the main protagonist. Her motivations are consistently informed by the male characters, from her dad, to his doctor, to the town’s denizens. Outside of the bird’s-nest-shaped treehouse retreat in her backyard wilderness, where she crafts and recalls fond memories of her mother, she rarely exercises her own agency. She has a dream sequence where she dances in a red dress with freeing, vigorous catharsis. However, as we learn moments later, it’s a shared dream. Even the sweet reprieve of sleep isn’t hers alone. Plus, the lazy screenwriting crutch of narration allows Russell to pontificate about himself and how Bess makes him feel, instead of letting Bess express any insight into her pressing personal plight.
Where the narrative and character development flounder, high stylization occasionally kicks in to give the aesthetics extra dimension. The correlations are sometimes literal and obtuse, where others can be subtle. A mirror image of Russell knocks down walls with a sledgehammer as he’s narrating a breakthrough revelation about the human condition. Bess’ craft project becomes animated, showing an origami bird taking flight, connoting the freedom she craves. Fantastical elements are further explored in the slow-motion sequence where Russell lifts her body, levitating her above her bed. The director duo tend to place their subjects in unconventional portions of the frame, speaking to the characters’ skewed worldview. Russell’s world is knocked off-kilter during his first suicide attempt as the camera tilts on a perpendicular plane.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this story is that the filmmakers work from the assumption that the audience instantly cares about these characters. We don’t, especially when we’ve been given no good reason to. As the film’s tagline prophetically declares, “We all have blind spots.” It’s okay to keep this one in yours.