I’ve said before how I don’t fully appreciate John Cassavetes’ work, and Love Streams is no different. There’s something about the features he directed that don’t quite gel with my appreciation of cinema. It’s entirely likely that I misunderstand the purpose of his films, what he’s trying to say in each of them. On the other hand it could be as simple as saying that we don’t get along.
In the case of Love Streams, it feels like a meandering, confused mess. There’s a plot in there somewhere, something about a drunken, cigarette smoking playboy type Robert (Cassavetes) and his genial but equally broken sister Sarah (Rowlands). They haven’t seen each other for years, so their reunion is a bittersweet moment. More so when he immediately gets out of the house and disappears for a short while. To be emotionally close to somebody else is inviting more pain into your life. Better to be distant, to drink, smoke and sleep with a random assortment of women.
The only thing that really stood out for me was the characterisation. There is a real depth to Robert and Sarah at the very least, their sorrow and malaise mixing to form what would otherwise be a nonsensical and completely obtuse production. Sarah’s the opposite of Robert in some respects. She’s coming out of a messy divorce, marriage being a subject that he would never entertain.
But then even this fails in some instances. Robert’s introduction to his son is handled well, but the boy’s reaction to his long absent father is a mess of contradiction. At first he hates him then, after an impromptu trip to Vegas (thus proving Robert is incapable of looking after anybody except himself), and Robert gets a punch in the face from the stepfather, the boy suddenly loves him. I think it was the punch that sealed the deal, but it doesn’t ring true.
In other areas it does work, if only for being completely loopy and off the wall. Sarah returns from one trip with a cavalcade of animals in tow, as if owning them all will somehow fix whatever emotional pain she is experiencing. The answer of course is that it won’t. For most people one pet, perhaps two would be enough to set you on the right path. When you’re basically bringing the whole zoo home with you, something is clearly amiss.
As it happens I’ve watched four Cassavetes films including this one, and it is perhaps my least favourite of the bunch. If it hadn’t been coloured by Cassavetes discovering that he had six months to live then it’s arguable that it wouldn’t have as much character as it does.
Judging by the high praise that Love Streams received in other quarters I am perhaps in the minority in not hailing this as a classic. It has its positive aspects for sure, but ultimately I was left cold, stood on the doorstep peering in and wondering why all of the people inside looked so depressed.