In The Power Of Love, director Tyler Maddox Simms takes the stories of multiple characters who have struggled with relationships and tells those stories against the backdrop of a radio talk show taking calls. Unfortunately, instead of series of deep, funny, or moving tales, the film opts to focus on a group of stories where almost nothing happens at all. And that is not a good plan for success, especially when the stories are mostly told to us through bland dialogue instead of being brought to life with quality acting.
The story is brought on by self-help author PJ Payton’s (Vivica Fox) recent book by the same name. She comes on the radio to talk about it, and the DJ takes calls from people who want to share their own experiences. The first caller (Malik Barnhardt) used to have a girlfriend, but now that he’s found religion, he yells at angels every time he sees a girl. And now he feels better. The next caller (Simms) is in a relationship where her husband is mean and her sister-in-law is passive-aggresive. So she decides to get out of it. Then we hear from a girl who doesn’t believe in love, but instead of having some life-altering story, her reasoning is simply because her boyfriend went away to jail for 10 years and then didn’t call her when he got out.
I suppose the main problem with this film is in the concept. Never in a million years would I sit and listen to talk radio where people tell stories about their relationships. I know that has some sort of popularity within some group of radio listeners, but I’m certainly not a member of that group. Therefore, a movie where people tell their stories on the radio is the sort of thing that has no appeal at all. But if executed well, then I’d be a fan, just as is true with (almost) any concept that is executed well.
Unfortunately, the execution here falls flat. The main problem is that the stories are filled to the brim with generic moments. For such short mini-stories, there’s too much time filled with generalities and small talk. I get that it’s supposed to make everything feel natural, feel genuine, and in the hands of the best improv actors working today, that may be the case, but unfortunately, there aren’t any mublecore experts in this cast, and thus we’re stuck listening to a bunch of forced, drawn-out conversations that don’t add anything to stories. That’s a major mistake. If they just got to the point and tried to show the way these characters changed, purely through showing their change and the actions that led to it, then it could’ve been a lot tighter and a lot more interesting. As it is though, even the 80 minute runtime seems to drag on and on.
Dialogue-focused films can be compelling. It’s definitely possible. They can even be so thrilling that they leave you breathless. But for that to happen, the dialogue has to be sharply written and almost unbearably entertaining. In The Power Of Love, the majority of the dialogue falls far short of entertaining, and rather ends up being simply unbearable.
All the fault can’t be heaped directly on the actors here though. They have almost no material to work with, at least no quality material. In every scene it looks as if they were trying to stretch three minutes of script into 10 minute segments. That does not bode well for a performance. And for Simms to let things continue on that way is terrible. I find it hard to believe that at any point she felt like the actors were delivering an accurate depiction of real life. That’s baffling considering how essential an accurate depiction is to this sort of film.
Setting aside the execution of the scenes, I don’t know if the best actors in the world could’ve saved these mini-stories. There just isn’t anything of substance there, or at least not enough to be noted as anything more than a sidebar. Problems are solved by nearly nothing changing, and then the characters act as if their lives are now perfect. Those easy resolutions are almost made believable by the utter lack of pain shown by the characters. Even the worst moments they talk about are shown as much less than distressing, let alone worthy of a total life change. These stories are promoted as unbelievable but the only thing that is unbelievable about them is the fact anyone would actually call into the radio to tell them.
The technical decisions are overwhelmingly poor as well. Multiple times in the movie the conversations get washed out by music, as if that’s supposed to increase the emotion. It’s almost infuriating having to listen to unrelated music instead of what the characters are saying. Perhaps that was another case of running out of dialogue, but I still would rather have bland lines than be blown out by music.
The cinematography is adequate, it’s safe, and will go unnoticed for most of the film. That’s usually a pretty good thing. It’s always better to err on the side of too safe than too bold, but in this specific film, it would’ve been nice to have something distract from what was on screen.
Despite all the negatives, the film does have a few bright spots. Vivica Fox plays the role of a self-help author quite well. She’s very believable in all her moments on screen, but unfortunately those are all far too short. The cutaways to her feel awkward at times, but they’re much more enjoyable than the story she’s listening to. Then suddenly, with almost no warning, she’s completely gone from the film. The other performance that’s actually quite good comes from Wood Harris. He plays a sort of pretentiously hip poet, and is awesome to listen to. Unfortunately, like Fox, he’s gone from the film within minutes.
Honestly, this story is probably better suited to be served in radio format. Maybe the stories would be made more interesting and more powerful if we were looking at something else than people miming out the stories they’re telling. It’s a movie that’s almost as good simply in sound as it is in visuals, and that’s a scary thought when you consider the quality of what we’re hearing.
There really aren’t many reasons I can find to see this film. Perhaps if you’re really into the self-help book lifestyle, then this would be something you’re interested in. Otherwise, skip The Power Of Love and listen to your local traffic report if you want to hear people talk on the radio.
Then again, the majority of talk radio is rubbish these days, so maybe that’s what the movie was trying to show. If so, it’s a great success, if not, The Power Of Love falls far short of showing that love has any power at all.