Love is both a many-splendored and painful thing according to Love Etc., a multi-subject documentary about the various states of amour that, while never succumbing to glibness, also fails to rise above superficial geniality. Director Jill Andresevic spent a year following four couples and one single father in New York City, resulting in a mosaic that touches on numerous key periods of romantic life: Gabrielle and Daniel are high school sweethearts grappling with a post-graduation and college future apart; Mahendra and Chitra are engaged and striving to deal with relationship problems while planning their lavish Indian wedding; Ethan is a divorced father of two who’s beginning to date a promising new girlfriend; Scott is a gay theater director in the process of having twins with a surrogate; and Albert and Marion are elderly songwriters still together after 48 years of marriage and learning to deal with Marion’s intensifying dementia. They’re a diverse group who reflect a broad stages-of-love spectrum, though Andresevic doesn’t unnecessarily underline what each represents, crosscutting between their tales with little apparent manipulation and a healthy dose of respect for their earnest attempts to figure out how to navigate their emotional and logistical circumstances.
Unfortunately, however, while Love Etc. shows restraint in its broad look at the universal desire for companionship, it remains a frustratingly thin affair. This is primarily due to the fact that, even if its themes remain largely unspoken, what it has to impart about love—that it’s more than simple passion; that it requires constant nurturing and work; that it involves sacrifice, change, and selflessness; and that its end can lead to loneliness and aimlessness—is still too obvious to make any sort of profound impact. A more concentrated focus on any of its five separate subjects (save, perhaps, for the relatively clichéd and banal Gabrielle and Daniel) would have likely reaped greater dividends, as the film, despite rarely succumbing to the type of shallowness endemic to Spellbound-style competition docs, gets just far enough under its characters’ skins to make one wish for additional depth. By opting for a wide-ranging rather than a narrow, individualized perspective, Andresevic delivers an accurate primer on the multifaceted nature of romantic and parental love, yet ultimately at the expense of truly exploring any one of its tumultuous, alternately enlivening, and crushing phases.