Mature content means something different when it comes to Eleanor Coppola’s narrative features. “Love Is Love Is Love” — opening Friday theatrically — is the director’s second narrative film. And as with her 2017 debut, “Paris Can Wait,” Coppola writes and shoots what she knows: the lives of women of a certain age — but also of a rather rarefied status.
Coppola has gathered a fine ensemble of actors, many of whom likely share in her concerns about the paucity of big-screen stories for — and featuring — grown women. The three vignettes in this at times tender, occasionally amusing adventure in romance, marriage and friendship provide a number of textured moments for their female performers. Johanna Whalley nails marital knowingness in “Two for Dinner.” Kathy Baker proves to be the adult in the room — er, on deck — in “Sailing Lesson.” The dinner table in “Late Lunch” is ringed with welcome guests (among them Cybill Shepherd, Rita Wilson and Rosanna Arquette) who underscore that friendship can be the ultimate consciousness-raising tool.
Out of the gate, Whalley is sage and alluring as Joanne, the wife of a movie producer (Chris Messina) who is often on location. As “Two for Dinner” opens, the pair are flirting on Skype, clearly anticipating a date they’ll be having shortly at a restaurant. It’s frisky stuff, the sort of banter that makes long-term marriage seem appealing. Getting dressed, Joanne tells Chris that one of their grown kids’ friends asked her what the secret to a long marriage is. Her answer: “Don’t get divorced.” The retort is funny, ouchy, apt — and sounds like earned wisdom.
There is a hitch to their date night: He’s in Montana. She’s home in Cali. So the two have dinner via Skype. We see her set up her too big laptop on a table in the middle of a French restaurant. She’s a regular — we get it. It’s a familiar routine to the staff, but there’s something a little off-putting, however cute, about the setup. And this points to something mildly vexing about “Love Is Love Is Love.” Consider it the film’s “privilege is privilege is privilege” problem.
The upscale location of each tale and the corralling of a talented cast put one in mind of Nancy Meyers’ posh string of rom-coms. Only, Coppola and co-writer Karen Leigh Hopkins take on their female characters’ experiences more earnestly. Yet the more the film asserts the truths of these women’s lives, the more sealed off those lives seem from a world that informs and rebuffs.
In “Sailing Lessons,” Diana’s husband, John (Marshall Bell), has hit his seven-year itch about 33 years into their marriage. “I want a girlfriend,” he tells her on a phone call, having slept elsewhere the night before. The title of this sweet, slight tale nods to the misadventure to which Diana consents. She gets seasick, which is the reason she doesn’t share that pastime with John. Polly Draper plays Diana’s friend Milly, who advises Diana not to give into John’s passive-aggressive demands. Once on the water, things go awry in ways predictable and not.
“Late Lunch” gives a slight twist to the notion of “ladies who lunch” when it becomes apparent that the accomplished women seated around the lovingly set dining-room table have gathered because a friend has died. This is the longest of the “Love Is” vignettes, and over the course of the meal, each shares an anecdote about Claire: Some are funny, some sad, almost all of them revelations to Caroline, Claire’s daughter and the meal’s host.
Maya Kazan plays Caroline. Looking stricken and a little scared of the power-lunch guest list, she carries some guilt — and a great deal of sorrow — about her and her mother’s last interactions. Might this group of women, of friends, so well curated by the dearly departed, bring solace? You know the answer, but getting to it will involve the women sharing stories about coming out, abortion, infidelity, forgiveness and more. One gets the sense that Coppola saved the best insights for last. Sure, the other two tales underscore the sustainability challenges of marriage, but “Late Lunch” celebrates the affinities that feed and fortify.