Hot Docs 2014 Review: Tough Love
A teenage mother with one more on the way and a recovering gambling and meth addict father are both feverishly trying to restore their lives and earn back custody of their children. Their fight may be their only similarity though in Stephanie Wang-Breal’s Tough Love, a documentary that never gets any bigger or more than these two very personal stories.
That is to say, it is a less a look into the child welfare system in the United States, and more a pair of narratives told in tandem that look to captivate if not evoke.
While the plights of Hannah and Patrick are indeed interesting in their own right, you can’t help but feel empty knowing there is a layered story that engages socio-economic, racial, and gender-based issues waiting to be told. What of addiction? Or bureaucracy? This isn’t a campaign film, and in order for Tough Love to be more coherent and engaging, it needs to be.
It almost feels as if we are dropped into the middle of the respective journeys of Patrick and Hannah. We get to know them intimately in the present and can sympathize with rather standards notions of love, but their pasts are only alluded to and it’s hard to exactly frame their fight.
Even the title, a phrase used in the film by an agent in a moment that just elicits giggles, is vague and lacking needed context.
Hannah and Patrick are winning, but ultimately you’re left wanting much more extrapolated and examined.