Art of Love is a romantic drama that feels out of place. The story is about writer and college professor (Esai Morales) who is trying to rediscover his passion . When he begins receiving messages from an admirer, it leads to an affair with one of his students.
As much as the film tries, there is not much more to it than that. Stories about older men being revitalized through the love of younger woman have long been a trope in romance. They allow people to vicariously live out their fantasies in a way the real world does not offer. The question becomes, whose fantasy is Art of Love catering to?
The movie has moments that lean towards the female gaze, but this is a very male-centric watch. There is little that sets Art of Love apart from locker room talk. For example, Li Chao’s (Kunjue Li) early proclamation she is a lesbian does not prevent her from entering into an affair with her male professor. There is also the power dynamic between the two and the professor’s (he is never named) concern that Li wants to “posses” him. It is too frivolous to be concerning, but it does feel antiquated.
This is due to the writing which is content to sticking with a formula that was acceptable years ago, but is filled with problems today . It still would have been possible to tell a love story about an older man and younger woman becoming involved in a sexually charged relationship. It even could have been a tale of forbidden love between a college professor and a student. But by placing Li in the role of a subservient seducer, Art of Love becomes the worst kind of throwback.
Lost in the storytelling is a strong performance from Morales. The character may be generic, by Morales gives passion to the professor. As Art of Love continues, things become too predictable and frustrating, however.
Art of Love opens in theaters July 22
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