Travis a thirtyish musician cobbling together a living in New York, playing jingles, interviewing folks on the street about their toothpaste.
But the wedding of an ex-girlfriend has him taking stock.
“I’ve been thinking I need to make some changes.”
To him, that means brushing off the girlfriend (Britne Oldford) he’s been keeping at arm’s length. And it means starting an affair with an older married wedding guest he’s just met. That’s “How He Fell in Love.”
But this realistic romantic drama by writer-director Marc Meyers is more about process than result, more about the journey than the destination.
Matt McGorry (“How to Get Away With Murder,” “Orange is the New Black”) makes Travis a hunky, amoral heel who takes Ellen’s business card in a shared ride into the city. He shows up at her yoga class, and takes to heart her instructions there.
“Yoga will open you up, emotionally and physically.”
He picks up on her distance from her ever-absent older husband (Mark Blum). And Ellen (Amy Hargreaves of “Homeland”) sends all the right signals, but with subtlety — eye contact here, a cute gesture there. The texting starts, then “meet up for a movie,” then hotels.
Everything in the film progresses through the classic “New York Affair” waypoints, leading to the “weekend away.” Much of what Travis does is stereotypical “musician as yard dog” behavior — amoral, greedy, narcissistic. But while McGorry doesn’t let the guy live beyond judgement, he lets us believe there’s no real malevolence here. The narcissism plays out in more understated ways — how he takes advantage of a friend and co-worker’s generosity, his casual dismissal and re-connection with the beautiful, high-strung ex-girlfriend.
He’s a heel, but a sensitive, self-aware one.
Hargreaves embraces Ellen’s feeling of liberation, but liberation with limits. She’s tumbling into this with open eyes, but hoping not to risk the parts of her life that comfort her — the luxury and freedom that marrying a wealthy older man provides.
Oldford sparks as a young woman trying to push/pull a reluctant lover to the next level, and veteran character actor Mark Blum has the best scenes as the cuckolded husband mature enough to see what’s going on, maybe even mature enough to stop it.
“How He Fell in Love” isn’t dazzling, warm and fuzzy. For all the damage being done, there’s not a lot of harsh edge to it, either. But it feels real, like something that could happen and probably does for a whole smorgasbord of reasons, many of them revealed here. It’s low-budget nature adds credibility and gravitas, and its over-explained life lessons feel earned, not imposed on it by a script that never overreaches.
MPAA Rating: unrated, sex, nudity
Cast: Matt McGorry, Amy Hargreaves, Mark Blum
Credits: Written and directed by Marc Meyers. A Monument release.
Running time: 1:47