Love & Debt bounces between a family drama about a frazzled husband and wife struggling to keep their marriage afloat, and a quirky comedy surrounding a group of misfit debt collectors. A young college graduate (the affable Casey Abrams) sees his economic classes turn into harsh realities when his livelihood suddenly depends on getting others to pay their debts. He eventually develops an affectionate relationship with the Warner family, becoming their own personal therapist and family friend despite needing to earn commission on the $80,000 they owe.
Money is a significant stress on countless families. Director Valerie Landsburg depicts how tight finances affect a family unit with a compelling authenticity, even if the film occasionally veers into tedious or over-the-top territory. Rather than show the grit of the lower working class, Love & Debt stays within the safe bubble of middle-class suburbia, but it is nevertheless a poignant representation of financial hardship.
Tom Cavanugh brings a sympathetic exasperation and woefulness to his role as Henry Warner, a marketing executive who is let go from his job. His wife, Karen, (the luminous Bellamy Young), takes too many pills to cope with the strain of raising four children, one of whom refuses to talk and the other a sullen teenager. Bailee Madison transforms the clichés of teenage angst into a vulnerable, touching portrayal of a young woman striving to keep her family intact. Karen also deals with her emotionally distant mother, played by Brynn Thayer, who is lots of fun as a vivacious, cougar grandmother.
Henry conceals his job loss from the family, trying to make ends meet at a knock-off Uber company, while Karen ironically works as a freelance organiser. Once Karen discovers the truth about her husband’s unemployment, she camps out at her mother’s and contemplates divorce. It is only the cheesy wisdom of her employer, an elderly woman who has seen many hardships in her marriage (Lee Meriwether), that makes her reconsider. To screenwriter Dylan Otto’s credit, he never villianisies Karen; you completely empathise with her overwhelming struggles as a wife and mother. This is also thanks to Young’s generous performance; she shades Karen’s neurosis with an erratic humor and piercing genuinity.
The entire pacing and structure of Love & Debt, with its zany vignettes and numerous emotional peaks and valleys, feels more like the first season of a sitcom rather than a feature film. With so many familial threads to explore, Love & Debt would have been better suited for the medium of television. Yet, despite being a crisp 90 minutes, the film has a meandering quality that makes it somewhat monotonous. There are strong comedic moments, such as when Henry is caught masturbating, and cringey ones, like Henry knocking down a traffic light after speeding. Similarly, the dialogue wavers between resonant sincerity and corniness. These slips aside, Love & Debt is a timely dramedy with an admirable frankness that champions the importance of cherishing our loved ones in difficult times.
Love & Debt is available on Amazon Prime in the US and for rental on VOD
by Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero, Bruce Springsteen. Her favourite films include Dog Day Afternoon, Raging Bull, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Lord of the Rings. She has an MA degree in Cinema Studies from SCAD and also appears in Fandor, Reverse Shot, Crooked Marquee, and IndieWire. You can follow her on Twitter @crolinss. Order her book Springsteen as Soundtrack here.