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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Love Lies Bleeding, Review: Musclesbians

Love Lies Bleeding, Review: Musclesbians

Some lesbian sex, a load of police corruption and bullets by the container, are the ingredients of this pot boiler. Bringing together unlikely, low-brow elements, Love Lies Bleeding might interest female body-builders and lesbians in present day USA, but has little to offer by means of entertainment, wholesome or unwholesome. It is likely to prove one of those come and go movies that have a lot of crime and muscle power on screen but do not have anything substantive to offer. It is different from the routine crime movie, in treatment, but that, in itself, does not make it distinguished. Neither does the title, which is a take-off on the film Sex, Lies and Videotape.

Sex, Lies and Videotape was released in 1989. Now guess in which year is Love Lies Bleeding set? Spot on! 1989. The main protagonist is gym manager Lou, who looks after the gym, owned by her father, Lou Senior. At the gym, Lou, who is lesbian, meets and falls in love with a young woman named Jackie, who is working out at her gym. It happens that Jackie gets a job at a shooting range, also owned by Lou’s father, after having sex with Lou’s her brother-in-law, J.J. J.J. is the abusive husband of Beth. Jackie herself aims to participate in, and win, a bodybuilding competition in Las Vegas. Lou offers her steroids, from the gum’s stock, free, which Jackie initially hesitates, but ends up using. The two soon have sex and Jackie moves into Lou's apartment.

Another battering from J.J. lands Beth in hospital, where Lou Sr. and Lou visit her. Lou Sr. wants to teach J.J. a lesson, but is not quite sure how. Lou feels that he should be dead.  Lou Sr. promises to take care of Beth while she is in hospital. When Jackie, emotionally unstable from spontaneous substance abuse, learns about J.J.’s madness, she breaks into J.J.’s home and brutally beats him to death. A distressed Lou arrives at the scene, admitting she didn’t actually want J.J. dead. The two drive his corpse and car into a ravine, where Lou formerly helped her father kill his business rivals and dispose of their bodies. On the way there, Lou's friend Daisy, who is infatuated with her and has made several passes at her, spots them, while Jackie is driving Lou’s truck.

Love Lies Bleeding is the handiwork of director Rose Glass (second outing, after Saint Maud) and Weronika Tofilska. Tofilska is a London-based writer and director, a graduate from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Film School in Poland, and the National Film and Television School in United Kingdom. The screenplay lets too much happen to Lou. In the past, she has been helping her father dispose-off bodies of business rivals he has killed. Her mother has disappeared 12 years ago. In the present, she is estranged from her Dad, but works as the Manager of his gym. She is hounded by her friend Daisy, who is a lesbian, like her, but whom she does not like. Enter Jackie. Intending to just pass through, she ends up training at Lou’s gym and Lou literally forces her into a lesbian relationship. But she turns out to be bi-sexual and sleeps with J.J. Her brother-in-law, J.J., is a philanderer, who beats his wife, and Lou wants that to end. That’s a handful. Though Jackie has an almost parallel role, all the others are not essential to the story.

It is never explained why Lou works at her father’s gym or what is it that she hates about Daisy. Similarly, we are not told why J.J. is such a beast. The shooting range, with bullets zipping left, right and center, is a mere set piece. What was the point in incorporating such an element, when it was to be of no consequence? It is small town locale, so it would not be easy to bump off several persons, and hush-up the police with money, as the Lous have been doing. All the neon colours and surreal-sized images seem more suited to a drug drama, rather than Love Lies and Bleeding. Actually, the title seems facetious: Love can be part of the title of most films. Lies Bleeding…? A tale about crimes and lesbian sexuality, maybe they should have titled it from those two factors. There is a 2011 novel by the same name and, aha, I nailed it! There is a plant called Love Lies Bleeding, with the botanical name Amaranthus caudatus.

English director Rose Glass graduated from the National Film and Television School in 2014. Her first film, Saint Maud, was hailed by a lot of industry captains. Unfortunately, I have not seen it. Be that as it may, Love Lies Bleeding is not the kind of film that would send knowledgeable audiences into raptures. She has a unique style of story-telling, which, in the present film, is a mixture of kitsch and élan, somewhat like and adult comic, with surreal superheroes. What could have drifted into a cheap, peep-show and guns affair, manages to stay afloat, in-spite of clichés and stereo-typing, thanks to some deft directorial touches that rescue the film. These include the love-making scenes between Lou and Jackie, and Jackie and Franco.

O’Brian told People magazine, “Our intimacy co-ordinator wanted to make sure I had lots of layers between me and Kristen Stewart, so she would tape down one layer of fabric, especially in our first bedroom scene, where you have to see the side of me, so we can’t have underwear on,” the former bodybuilder said. “Then, I think there was another layer, and there was literally a cut-out yoga mat that she put over me, and taped that down.” O’Brian revealed she was even given a hockey cup to use at times, while Dave Franco used a deflated yoga ball as a buffer between them during their intimate scene. The scenes between Kristen and O’Brian have almost no nudity, which is highly unusual, but also creative.

This UK-USA production has 33 year-old Kristen Jaymes Stewart (The Twilight Saga, Happiest Season, Spencer: Oscar nomination, playing Princess Diana) playing Lou. Just look at her regular pictures, and you will realise what a transformation she has undergone for the role of Lou. However, she did not have to get under the skin of a gay woman, simply because she is one. She publicly came out as gay in February 2017, on Saturday Night Live, while responding to how the then-US President, Donald Trump, had previously urged her ex-boyfriend, Robert Pattinson (one of her earliest co-stars), to break up with her. Stewart has continued to be open about romantic relationships, as she’s been engaged to her partner, Dylan Meyer, since 2021. During an interview with Andy Cohen in October 2023, she opened up about her future wedding plans. One school of thought paints her as bi-sexual. Her portrayal of Lou is one of the highlights of the film, though it might not be enough to take the film ashore.

A real life cop, who served with the Carmel Police Department in Carmel, Indiana, Katy M. O’Brian is of mixed African-American and white ancestry. She has not had much of a resume yet, with only films like Fantasy, Sweet Girl and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Strikingly beautiful, she is able to carry off the Ms. Muscles act with conviction. Part of that comes from the fact that she started making waves as a martial arts practitioner at age 5. She is made to look and behave as the exact opposite of Lou, for opposites attract, and how! Beth is played by Gena Laine Malone, who is also a singer, and she does an okay job of evoking sympathy. Anna Katerina Baryshnikov is cast as Daisy, the sweet-faced hitting-on girl, infatuated by Lou.  Familiar surname? Baryshnikov is the daughter of Latvian-American ballet dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov. Again, a good piece of casting. Incidentally or co-incidentally, both Stewart and O’Brian are 33 years old.

Film-maker and actor, David John Franco is the kid brother of James Franco. In 2020, he made his directorial debut with The Rental, which starred his wife, Alison Brie. Playing J.J., a black character, with nothing of Grey’s anatomy in him, he only has to act repulsive, which he does, quite competently.

Now here comes the Grand-Daddy of the cast, 74 year-old Edward Allen Harris, as Lou Senior.  Among his various achievements are Apollo 13, The Truman Show, Pollock, and The Hours, which earned him critical acclaim and Academy Award nominations. He designed his own wig, with a pony-tail and long locks of white hair hanging on each side. Does he look sinister? You bet. But does he look stereo-typical. I am afraid so.

A 104-minute long film, Love Lies Bleeding has cinematography by Ben Fordesman, editing by

Mark Towns and music by Clint Mansell.

Between rippling muscular lesbians and those with normal biceps and triceps, Love Lies Bleeding needed some first-aid to have it up and about.

Rating: **



This review was to appear about three weeks ago, but our website was migrating from one server to another, and there were some technical glitches.that took some time. Apologies.


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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