New Ann Arbor movie 'Love and Honor' is a solid addition to city's film resume
The two soldiers, Dalton Joiner (Austin Stowell), a straight-arrow point man who’s heartbroken by a Dear John letter, and Mickey Wright (Liam Hemsworth), a smooth-talking ladies’ man, take advantage of airlines’ “military fly free” policy and head to Ann Arbor after they’re released for a week of R&R in Hong Kong.
Joiner’s stuck on the idea of seeing his college student girlfriend Jane (Aimee Teegarden) and working things out, while Mickey merely tags along, and then concocts a story about the two soldiers being deserters, and becomes smitten with one of Jane’s activist roommates, Candace (Teresa Palmer).
Candace writes articles for an underground newspaper that her roommate and sometimes-boyfriend Peter (Chris Lowell) publishes within the house. In one scene, which highlights both a strength and a weakness of the film, Mickey repairs the mimeograph machine, and in this way, unwittingly sets a trap for himself, since Peter betrays the soldiers by writing about their heroic “desertion” in his newspaper and using their real names.
Small moments that end up having a big impact is one of “Love and Honor”’s strengths, giving you the sense that you’re in the hands of experienced and thoughtful storytellers; plus, the romances that lie at the movie’s center feature twists that you don’t always see coming (no small feat in a romantic drama). But this same scene also features Hemsworth shirtless, making the moment feel like a self-conscious, “here’s a little something for the ladies” ploy.
“Love and Honor”’s overall look, in regard to era, often rings hollow. Though this may be a consequence of the indie film’s low budget, the characters’ hairstyles and clothing seem more like what contemporary students would wear if attending a '60s-themed party, rather than what students actually looked like in that time; and the South U rally scenes (which feature what locals will recognize as Festifools puppets) look a little underpopulated and unconvincing. Plus, when Mickey and Candace share a meaningful kiss, it’s often with lake-reflected moonlight, or a setting sun, as a central backdrop. (Will there ever again be a romantic film set in modern times that doesn’t feature a wildly liberating, outdoor swimming scene? I’m starting to really, really doubt it.)
But you tend to (mostly) forgive such stylized ploys when absorbed in a plot, and there’s enough that’s surprising and charming in the dual storyline of “Love and Honor” to recommend it. The four leads are all appealing, and the Ann Arbor area looks gorgeous in its summertime glory. (The Ypsilanti Water Tower is not just part of the scenery when the soldiers drive by on their way to Ann Arbor, but features prominently in one the film’s key turning points.)
“Love and Honor” would have been even more satisfying if Burnstein and Schiff delved more deeply into the inevitably complicated showdown between young people who were against the war and young people who were fighting the war—the minor verbal skirmishes in the script never get too far below the surface, and that feels like a promising opportunity lost—and the movie's acting gets a bit sketchier as you work your way down the food chain.
So if you want to check out “Love and Honor”—now available On Demand and via iTunes, with a limited theatrical release slated for March—expect a pretty good, if not quite great, movie that might well be the last to feature both our area and and marquee stars.