52 Words of Love tells the story of Alice, a young woman dying of cancer to launches the titular website, in which she posts a new synonym for love each week for a year. As the site gradually takes off in popularity, she unintentionally begins a ripple effect through her social network and learns more about her relationships than she expected.
Written and directed by Andrea Moodie and James Blokland, 52 Words is an interesting blend of reality and fiction. Balancing documentary interviews with narrative drama, the film plays out in a manner that is less story-driven and more personal inquest. While there are other films which look at multiple relationships simultaneously (ie. Valentine’s Day and other films in that franchise), 52 Words plays out uniquely with its sense of authenticity and realism. This is not a film selling itself on star power or passionate sexuality. Rather, 52 Words reveals itself to be a genuine search for the meaning of a word that has been over-used in our culture for virtually any situation. (After all, says Alice, “if the First Nations people have 50 words for snow, we should have at least that many for love”. )
It’s this heart of realism that give 52 Words its legitimacy. This is not a clinical study of love in that there is no scientific study in to the history of the term and its use. Instead, the film focuses on feelings and aspects of love such as ‘commitment’, ‘intimacy’ and many more (50 more, to be exact). This is a quest to discover what it means to experience love as both the lover and the object. Reasoning that she doesn’t think she’s ever fully known what love is, Alice’s journey frames the narratives and interviews well as she attempts to discover its meaning for herself. (This is augmented by the fact that she doesn’t even particularly care how many people view her website, but that she is honestly asking the question.) There’s a complexity to the concept of love in this film that others rarely acknowledge. Instead of mere romance, 52 Words recognizes that love is a word embedded with incredible depth, sacrifice and commitment. The film speaks of it rightly as a word that combines the depth of divine humility, community, pain and sacrifice that brings us together, regardless of ethnicity or gender. Most importantly, it also recognizes that it’s something we all desperately need.
While 52 Words for Love will likely slip under the radar of many (moving straight to VOD will do that), that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. By free-flowing between narratives, the film is able to examine love from many different angles and give space to the complex and divine nature of what it means.
52 Words for Love is available on demand on February 14th, 2019