Review: Father and Daughter Journey Toward Reconciliation (and Rehab) in Bleeding Love

Family drama is rarely depicted on screen with quite such bite as Bleeding Love, which casts real-life father and daughter Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor playing an estranged father and his drug-addicted daughter taking a spontaneous road trip across the American southwest mere hours after the daughter nearly dies of an overdose. She’s very resistant to spending anytime with the man who basically abandoned their family when she was a child (the young daughter is seen in flashbacks, played by Devyn McDowell), and she does everything she can to sabotage his attempts at reconnecting with her, including running away, sneaking drugs and alcohol when she’s able, and just generally being disagreeable.

What she doesn’t know is that her father is actually driving her to a rehab facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico; he’s afraid if he tells her, she’ll run away for real (he’s probably right). The father (neither father nor daughter are given actual names) feels uniquely qualified for this trip since one of the reasons he left his family years earlier was because he was also an addict and was afraid he’d ruin their lives if he stuck around. Instead of returning when he was better, he started up a new family, and now has a young son that he clearly adores (we never see the son, but he talks to him and his new wife on the phone throughout the journey).

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar to fans of the elder McGregor, he and his daughter have fully acknowledged that, although Bleeding Love is fiction, it is based in part on their relationship. In fact, Clara contributed to the film’s story (along with screenwriter Ruby Caster and co-star Vera Bulder). So the moments when father and daughter have very difficult and painful conversations about her issues, his issues, and their relationship, things feel alarmingly real and all-too believable.

Of course, since this is a also a road trip movie, the pair meet up with their fair share of eccentric characters along the way, including a tow-truck driver with all sorts of theories about the world (Kim Zimmer); a prostitute with an admirable knowledge of the perils of desert-dwelling poisonous animals (Bulder); and a creepy couple who attempt to lead the daughter astray for a night that is a turning point in her life. Director Emma Westenberg (who has directed many a music video, including groundbreaking work with Janelle Monáe) certainly has an eye for the beauty of the desert, and she’s smart enough to know when to give her two leads the space to simply cut loose on each other. 

But aside from the familial elements of the story, there’s not much in Bleeding Love that breaks new ground in terms of addiction stories or tales of absentee fathers trying to make good. The resolution and conclusion of the film wraps up a little too tidy, especially considering how messy the rest of the film gets. Also, as much as the pit stops the father and daughter make are quirky enough distractions, it all feels a bit meandering and padded out. A part of me hoped that the two McGregors actually did get the broken parts of their relationship worked out by making this movie, but putting your therapy on screen like this has a tendency to feel self-indulgent, even if the intention is to help others.

The film is now playing in a limited theatrical run and is available On Demand.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.