Johnny (Scott Caan) protests against his father’s cynical claim that ‘Love is a myth … it doesn’t exist’.
Yet his protest is not verbal. Instead, he surrounds himself with matchmakers who would have him settle, hard-to-get bimbos who want him too much, and the affable over-confidence of a man who has sold too many novels at thirty while having suffered too little to earn his wings for writing love’s story.
Mercy (Wendy Glenn) changes everything.
Johnny writes of love but knows nothing of it. He ‘loves it when they leave’. Mercy sees right through the disconnect, through Johnny, and—quite improbably and despite returning on schedule from Johnny’s L.A. to her adopted New York—fails entirely to leave.
In a stunning turn, Glenn’s’ New York-based English literary critic (‘Mercy’) up-ends Johnny and his world with the exquisite violence of love that surprises precisely because three decades have been invested in denying the possibility of it.
Johnny can hardly catch his breath.
Alas, the asthmatic Mercy can’t either. Her lithe, beautiful, breathtaking life ends in an elevator even as Johnny announced his intended weeding to his best friend and agent: ‘You’ll look damn good in a tuxedo.’ Mercy’s inhaler—her ever-reliable bulwark between charmed life and the threat of its extinction—rests uselessly on the still-warm passenger seat of Johnny’s car.
Spare without the self-referential obsession that conventionally accompanies minimalist film-making, Mercy both moves and shines.
We are left to wonder whether on-screen events are real life or just the plot of Johnny’s latest novel in the making. Can the book simply be closed and ordinary life resumed? Or are the circumstances of Mercy’s cameo lethal, real, and final?
At another level, the film prods us to wonder whether Mercy is film or life.
Love denied. Love surprising. Love lost.
The film’s enigmatic final scene appears to reduce the drama of it all to Johnny’s off-the-beaten path novel when another bit of pulp from the mill would have done. Art, after all, has not imitated life but merely provided an intense distraction from it.
Johnny, it turns out, is still just an affable lady’s man who has elevated his game by tossing off a gripping love story as though he knew something about the thing.