Lyda Kuth, executive director of the LEF Foundation, which has funded many worthwhile film projects, found herself increasingly interested in making a film herself. The looming departure of her only child, Lily, to college provided inspiration. “I’m a ruminator,” she says, “and with the empty nest looming I have a lot to ruminate on.”
The empty nest made Kuth wonder about the nature of love and how this major change in her life would affect her and her marriage. (She and her husband, Kent, have been married for 20 years and had lived together for five years before that.) Such wondering can be unsettling — hence the second part of her documentary’s title, “Love and Other Anxieties.” Further inspiration for the choice of that last word might be that a filmmaker friend told Kuth, “You can make a film about anything, except love.”
Kuth, who narrates, interviews various people about love and marriage: the soon-to-be-married daughter of the woman who cleans her house; her massage therapist; a young filmmaker; the social historian Claudia Koontz; several of Koontz’s students; a young playwright; a friend of the playwright. If that sounds like a somewhat haphazard list, that’s because it is. The most interesting remarks come in passing, from Kuth’s hairdresser, Thomas, and the mostly taciturn Kent, who sets aside his taciturnity long enough to do a splendid Julia Child imitation while he’s making a pie. That bit of comedy and unexpectedness really stands out. So does the deadpan wit of a cut from a photo of Kuth in profile at her wedding wearing a tiara of flowers to her in profile wearing a plastic cap as she gets her hair done.
The documentary includes family photos (such as that wedding picture), home movies, and shots of Kuth traveling. “There’s way too many shots in films of cars,” she complains as she’s shown in a car, “way too many.” Is this irony or meta-padding?
“This isn’t the movie I had envisioned,” Kuth says at one point. “It’s become way too personal.” We learn that her mother divorced three times, that Kuth felt a sense of failure over not going to graduate school to study literature, that she surprised herself by wanting a traditional wedding.
Normally, such details add texture and flavor to a film. Here they seem distracting. Or is it the interviews that are distracting? Wavering between the personal and the general, “Love and Other Anxieties” is amiable and earnest and has the courage not to force answers to unanswerable questions. It’s also tentative and pallid and seems a bit afraid of those questions.
Kuth admits to “feeling conflicted” about the film. “We’re pretty private people,” she says of herself and Kent. The most charged moment in the film comes as she’s surreptitiously filming him in their kitchen. He asks if he’s being filmed. No, she says. Realizing that’s not true, he turns off the camera. What followed? The presence of that scene, and others of comparable complicatedness, would make “Love and Other Anxieties” a very different movie.