Bleeding Love (Vertical Entertainment, NR)

Ewan McGregor has not gotten the credit he deserves for consistently choosing interesting independent projects most of the time ever since his stint in George Lucas’ Star Wars prequels. Through all these films, he’s maintained his stature as a phenomenally gifted actor, and both qualities serve him well in Bleeding Love, a film in which he and his daughter Clara McGregor must both be as vulnerable as it gets.

Based on an original story by Clara, Ruby Caster, and Vera Bulder, with a script written by Caster, Bleeding Love follows the real-life father and daughter as a fictional father-daughter duo on a road trip after Daughter (Clara, named “Daughter” in the script and in the credits) nearly dies and is revived after a drug overdose. Father (Ewan) is distraught in more ways than one — he dealt with similar addiction issues when she was a kid. Though the film draws on some elements of the McGregors’ lives, it is not autobiographical. It achieves a rare honesty despite whatever invented elements there are.

Though the film is a little rough around the edges from a visual standpoint, director Emma Westenberg deftly handles tonal shifts from comedy to pure joy and raw emotion. The focus from everyone involved seems to have been realistically portraying how to help an addict help themselves. Daughter must come to certain realizations on her own, and the film wisely doesn’t get bogged down in backstory, which would only serve to cloud the relationship at its core. There are a few moments where I worried we were loping too long in certain road-movie tropes, but most of the time, these are serving to increase our understanding of Father’s feeling helpless in this situation, which bolsters our emotional investment in the slow burn. There’s an invisible wall built between the two of them, and the film’s job is to destroy that wall brick by brick, not in one grand explosion.

Clara McGregor is a revelation here. She never reveals too much, but somehow always makes sure her character is endearing through repeated self-destructive patterns of behavior which would probably be beyond frustrating were a family member to engage in them. In this way, we see the whole situation through Father’s eyes, never losing the empathy the film has for her without needing to know every detail of how she got here.

A scene late in the film includes some of Ewan’s best acting work to date. He’s nearly lost hope for his child, similarly to Marlin in Finding Nemo, for example. Is she safe? Will anyone in this world take pity on her? No matter what the circumstances, he must press on. In addition to the performances, it’s that kind of parental dedication, despite everything — including one’s own mistakes — which makes Bleeding Love worth seeing. The authenticity of a real parent-child relationship makes it onto the screen in surprising and wonderful ways, especially for the small scale the film seems to occupy at its beginning. It’s equal parts exponentially more gripping and exponentially more heartwarming as it goes along. As the road grows shorter, the love grows stronger. | George Napper

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