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Challenging Women: 'Love And Other Impossible Pursuits'

September 17, 2009 |  8:28 am

"I hope you like challenging women," director and screenwriter Don Roos said while introducing Wednesday night's world premiere screening of "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits," "because you're going to see a few tonight."

The film follows a family trying to find its footing, as a second wife (Natalie Portman) deals with the death of her newborn daughter, the scorn of her husband's first wife (Lisa Kudrow) and trying to integrate herself into the life of the son from the first marriage.

"Love," based on the novel by Ayelet Waldman, is Roos' first directorial effort not based on an original screenplay, and the cloying, camp archness that often impeded "The Opposite of Sex" or "Happy Endings" is gone entirely. In many ways this is easily Roos' best film, full of insight into the modern redefinition of the idea of family. It has a weakness for melodrama nonetheless, sometimes tugging hard at the heartstrings when a gentle pluck might have been sufficient.

It says plenty about the current state of film financing and distribution that a film like this comes to a festival like Toronto looking to be picked up. A few years ago this film would have had no problem finding its way to theaters, but in the current climate, who knows? The performances by Portman and Kudrow, particularly in their few scenes together, seem ready-made as awards-show highlight clips. In his introduction, Roos made mention that Portman came into the role only 10 days before shooting after another actress dropped out. Perhaps she should take all her roles with so little preparation, as she seems to inhabit the part so completely it is difficult to imagine anyone else in it. She doesn't exhibit the plucky spirit so often asked for of younger actresses, but rather an armored wariness and defensive hostility that is remarkable to encounter. Though the film may at times be less than perfect, Portman gives a startlingly rounded and full-blooded performance. Here's to hoping more people get the chance to see it.

-- Mark Olsen