Bleeding Love review

In Bleeding Love, from director Emma Westenberg, the open road has never felt more awkward. The film tells the story of a recovering addict father on a road trip with his estranged daughter following her overdose. Adding a little extra intrigue is that the father/daughter pairing are played by actors who share that familial relationship; Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor.

With the younger McGregor one of the co-writers of the story, you might be tempted to read some truth into what’s shown on screen, particularly with the films main themes of addiction problems, divorces and second families all appearing on their real-life Wikipedia pages. And you can see some of that reality has seeped into the drama. If you’ve ever watched one of Ewan’s motorbiking documentaries, you’ll recognise him calling his partner ‘my love’. And while they’ve said there’s meta elements during the press tour for the film, you don’t want to read too much into it given the characters and setting seem pretty distant from their real lives.

The father (both lead characters remain nameless) is a landscape gardener with a quiet and apologetic demeanour. It’s a part that doesn’t massively allow the older McGregor to display much of his trademark sparkle and joie de vivre, spending most the time seeming lost, worried and scared. That makes a contrast to Clara as the wannabe artist daughter who is a livewire, in denial about her addiction and traumatised by her past. In the wrong hands, that character could be unbearable and deeply unsympathetic but it’s a credit to both the performance and the direction that the film manages to create empathy.

The structure is a classic road trip movie, not much plot but plenty of stops along the way guided by bad decisions, and a lot of pissing by the side of the road. Each stop introduces side characters, and the interactions allow the pair to learn about themselves and each other. These range from the comedic – a pickup truck driver with psychic powers – to the terrifying – another drug addict and his demanding girlfiend. And while there’s an escalation, the film at times feels uneven in tone, unsure whether to be detatched and bemused or harrowing.

The moments of bonding are the most enjoyable, with the singalong to Leona Lewis’ ‘Bleeding Love’ (hence the title) being the one time the film is fun during a generally challenging watch. It also seems to flinch a little at the darker edges of the story. The grimmer aspects of addiction are never too explicit, feeling more like a children’s TV drama at times, and even an overdose and night on the street doesn’t mean a bad hair day.

The narrative is interspersed with flashbacks to the daughter’s childhood, filmed with a wide-angled camcorder sensibility that reminds a little of The Florida Project. Perhaps it’s just the change in hairstyle (he always has great hair) but they do an excellent job of making Ewan McGregor look younger in these sequences, not that he looks particulary old now.

There is some very nice cinematography and when you have wonderful US landscapes, it’s a shame not to showcase them. There are even some moments that remind of one of the greatest road movies of all time, Terrence Malick’s Badlands.

The film’s conclusion feels satisfying and genuine with the spiritual and physical journey given more meaning with a nice callback to show the growth in the relationships. While it doesn’t feel unearned, there is a sense that it all could have had a little more depth, something more to make it stand out from the world of indie melodrama. But overall, you have two capable and charismatic performers playing against each other and a reasonably satisfying arc. For this road trip, it’s the destination that matters more than the journey.

Bleeding Love (2024)
Directed by Emma Westenberg
Screenplay by Ruby Caster
Story by Ruby Caster, Clara McGregor, Vera Bulder
Cinematography by Christopher Ripley

Edited by Autumn Dea
Music by Raven Aartsen
Starring Clara McGregor, Ewan McGregor, Kim Zimmer, Jake Weary

Bleeding love arrives in UK cinemas on 12th April 2024.