Lovers of Hate is built around a gimmick that you either buy into or you don't. A colleague had suggested that the film feels like one Hollywood would buy just to remake it with more well known actors, because the premise is one that you'd so expect to find splattered across the next Will Ferrell movie. That's not to say the actors in this version are horrible at what they do; they're not. Nor is writer-director Brian Poyser (Dear Pillow), who, in a very emotional moment prior to the film's premiere, said that it was dedicated to his father who passed away one week after it was accepted to Sundance. Poyser definitely has an eye for the strange, uncomfortable comedy, and when things are strange and comfortable, Lovers of Hate really slips into the type of film you want to high five. However, its slower moments and refusal to fully commit to a particular tone drops it down a few notches, but not enough to skip it all together.
Rudy is a disheveled loser who's sleeping in his car and stalking his ex-wife hoping that maybe -- just maybe -- she'll forget, forgive and take one more shot at what once was a successful and meaningful relationship. Problem is, Rudy is a complete mess -- and part of this may have to do with the fact that his younger brother kinda-sorta stole his thunder by becoming filthy rich off the Harry Potter-like story Rudy used to entertain him with when he was a kid. Now, all grown up, Rudy's brother Paul is a hero novelist who has everything he could ever want, while Rudy is the exact opposite and a sorry excuse for a man. When Paul learns of Rudy's crumbling marriage and invites his brother's ex-wife Diana out to a fancy mountain cabin to "talk things over", the film's central storyline -- which involves one of the most awkward, uncomfortable love triangles I've ever seen -- soon kicks into high gear, and that's when Lovers of Hate turns into a film you either love or you hate.
Or maybe you just kind of feel so-so about it; like I said, a lot of it depends upon whether you buy into the central gimmick. See, eventually, Rudy, Diana and Paul all wind up at Paul's decked-out mountain cabin, except while Paul and Diana are using the weekend to screw like jack-rabbits (instead of enjoying long, meaningful talks about what went wrong in her relationship with the ex-hubby), Rudy somehow managed to sneak into the house and is quietly roaming the halls, spying on the two and trying to decide whether he should leave or stick around and mess with them. This, of course, leads to lots of uncomfortable scenes where one dude has to watch his younger brother have sex with the girl he's still in love with (and was once married to).
One colleague described these sneak-around-the-house events as a low budget version of a Three's Company episode (ie: he thought it was lame), whereas I actually liked a lot of the comedy. In Hollywood hands, they'd of course up the set pieces and make it a much bigger film than it is here, but that's kind of why Lovers of Hate is so charming in a f*cked up way: it attacks the weird, perverse subject from a very down-to-earth point of view. Writer-director Poyser dumps us into this house and right smack in the middle of this love triangle without dressing it up in some unrealistic concept. These people are messed up, and if you're with them, then remind me not to hang out with you this weekend.
That's probably the one main problem I had with the film: I didn't like any of the characters. In fact, I kinda hated them. But as the title suggests, you sort of love to hate them -- they're so moronic, sleazy and selfish that you're almost glad they're all trapped in the same house together and not out there ruining the lives of anyone else. For my money, Heather Kafka is the real highlight of the film. She does a superb job of balancing equal amounts of trashy whore with guilt-ridden ex-spouse, giving the role a real sense of, well, real. Do you believe this girl exists? Yes. Do you want to ask her for advice anytime soon? Hell no!
I wouldn't want to ask any of these characters for advice, nor would I want to hang out with them any more than I have to while watching this film. Still, Lovers of Hate does a superb job of tapping into a lot of our worst nightmares with some dark, intelligent comedy, and then completely screws us over by making it relatable and believable. I don't know about you, but that's my kind of movie.
For more on Lovers of Hate -- including an interview with writer-director Bryan Poyser -- check out our Sundance Primer on the film.