SXSW 2023 Review: “With Love and a Major Organ” Tugs at the Heart Strings

There’s something to be said for caring a little less about the world at large in “With Love and a Major Organ” when Anabel (Anna Maguire) cares so deeply about things that she can’t bring herself to read the news. Afraid of what sad events might derail her plans for the day should she come across them surreptitiously, it would only burden her to spend the day worrying what she can’t possibly do to help alleviate them. In the view of director Kim Albright and writer Julia Lederer, who adapted her play of the same name for the screen, this admirably deep compassion for others also opens Anabel up to all sorts of pain, inheriting it when it seems there’s nowhere else for it to go. She has no answers, though in the near future she occupies, others appear to have figured it out – not actual solutions to the world’s biggest problems, mind you, but at least protection from the emotional fallout, with serenity as far away as one’s smartphone when an app called LifeZapp promises to take inventory of your significant memories and needs so you don’t have to.

This is far from the most ambitious idea that “With Love and a Major Organ” has, but one like so many others in the endearing dystopian tale that works the muscles in the head as much as the heart, a fickle thing that Anabel spends much of her time trying to apply logic to. You actually feel slightly privileged to be an audience when she can’t seem to find anyone else to tell about this recurring vision she’s had about seeing a man on a cliff removing his heart from his chest, wasting a description on a therapist who notes they have only one session left as demand for their profession has diminished in the wake of LifeZapp and insurance will no longer cover therapy. Anabel’s mother quickly changes the subject when her daughter brings it up and her co-worker Casey (Donna Benedicto), for whom she’ll soon be the maid of honor at her wedding, can’t really relate when she was an early adoptee of LifeZapp and hasn’t looked back.

At least Casey picks up on her friend’s loneliness, suggesting that Anabel may be able to find a partner online, though this doesn’t suit her tendencies to generally do things the old fashioned way, a patience that would seem to pay off when she comes across George (Hamza Haq), a stranger in the local park who can’t help but take note – and feel a bit shaken – when she waves to him at a time when that type of interaction without a prior relationship just isn’t done these days. Albright and Lederer confidently fashion a world in which the creeping recognition that the strange customs essentially exist in the climate we all currently inhabit is part of its considerable pleasure and while comparisons to the surrealities of Charlie Kaufman are inevitable, “With Love and a Major Organ” is its own distinct thing as Anabel searches her mind for a grand gesture meant to overwhelm George that not only has to clear the bar of seeing her as a potential partner, but to believe love is possible in the first place.

Whether that means lowering herself to his level of disaffection or to show even more vulnerability becomes a provocative question and without ever putting too fine a point on it, the film counters the thorny notion of technological advances being employed as a shield from personal interaction with equally sharp observations about the privately held frustrations that build when social norms get in the way of honest dialogue. It’s hard to imagine a better voice to convey such uncertainty than Maguire, whose dulcet tenor invites one to listen a little closer to realize the state of emotional disarray that Anabel is in despite her apparent conviction and she sets the tone for a wily, melancholy dramedy that may acutely captures the stress of living in modern times but never strains to deliver something heartfelt.

“With Love and a Major Organ” will screen at SXSW on March 14th at 9 pm at the Alamo Lamar D and March 17th at 2:30 pm at the Alamo Lamar C.

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