Streaming Review

Death of a Ladies’ Man review – Leonard Cohen soundtrack elevates a forgettable dramedy

Gabriel Byrne gives a solid lead performance in this tale of a terminally ill philanderer, but the film around him often grates

Given his calibre as an actor, not to mention a filmography that includes such untouchable classics as Miller’s Crossing and The Usual Suspects, Gabriel Byrne has been mostly ill-served in recent years (with an exception made for Hereditary). Sadly, that trend continues with Death of a Ladies’ Man, a thin and forgettable dramedy that, outside of its frequent use of Leonard Cohen songs, has little to offer either Byrne or an audience.

Byrne plays Samuel O’Shea, a 60-something Irish writer and old-school philanderer who lives in Montreal, teaching poetry to university students while chasing much younger women and drinking copious amounts of whiskey. After the dissolution of his second marriage, Samuel is thrown into a crisis that is exacerbated by the discovery of a terminal brain tumour that leads him to have bizarre, fantastical hallucinations.

As well as Cohen’s music, it’s in these hallucinations that Death of a Ladies’ Man tries to carve out its own identity within the deeply exhausted genre of “lecherous old gadabout finally gets serious,” to middling results. When writer-director Matt Bissonette combines the visions with Cohen songs, it can make for some fun quasi-music videos, the highlight being an ice-skating ballet set to “Bird on the Wire,” which manages to be the film’s most genuinely moving moment. Mostly, though, these diversions are just too self-consciously zany, overstaying their welcome to the point of annoyance.

As his condition worsens and he heads back to Ireland to try to find some peace, Samuel finds himself visited by the ghost of his dad Ben (Brian Gleeson), who died when Samuel was still young. Bissonette presents these visits in a different way to the other hallucinations, and the wisdom imparted by Ben seems just unearthly enough that his presence may well be “real,” allowing for a more deeply-felt earnestness than you get elsewhere in the film.

Byrne and Gleeson have an easy chemistry and make for decent company, and you end up wishing that their relationship, unbound by the conventions of linear time and the barrier between life and death, formed much more of Death of a Ladies’ Man’s runtime. Instead, though, it’s constantly interrupted by unengaging sub-plots involving Samuel’s kids and ex-wife that stretch believability as they try your patience – not helped by weak performances from the supporting cast. It’s made more galling by the fact that the returns to the land of the living are all in dull grey cityscapes, as opposed to the natural gorgeousness of rural Ireland and its magnificently unpolluted night skies.

There are a lot of ideas stepping on each other’s toes in Death of a Ladies’ Man, and only a few of them are good. Byrne is, of course, a dependable leading man for a light drama like this, but he’s not offered all that much to do (for a guy approaching his impending death, Samuel is remarkably nonchalant) and a lot of the more poorly acted film around him becomes rather grating up until a truly ludicrous ending. There have certainly been much worse films than Death of a Ladies’ Man this year, but I can’t think of many that disappear from memory quite as fast.

Death of a Ladies’ Man is now available on various streaming services.

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