Mark Reviews Movies

FEAST OF LOVE

1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Robert Benton

Cast: Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Alexa Davalos, Toby Hemingway, Billy Burke, Selma Blair, Stana Katic, Jane Alexander, Fred Ward

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 9/28/07


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Guess what Feast of Love is about. Yes, it's about love—the romantic kind only, of course—and a few of its basic forms. Not only is the movie categorical about love but also about its characters, who fall into one of two types: the cynic and the romantic. And then there's Morgan Freeman as the skewed, sentimental voice of reason, both in body and, naturally, in narration. Director Robert Benton's exploration of romance is insultingly simplistic and yet painfully convoluted, full of melodramatic non-revelations about the nature of love and subplots upon subplots that stack up to a bunch of love-and-lost hooey. This is the kind of thing you'd expect on a women's cable network movie-of-the-week, and screenwriter Allison Burnett (working from, what I've heard, a more meta-fictional novel by Charles Baxter; this kind of circumstantial plotting might actually work as meta-fiction) takes a kind of dopey sincerity about the whole thing. Most of the characters are unlikable, because of either their innocent and unmotivated malice or their innocent and naïve blinders to reality. The well-rounded cast does its best with this material, giving solid performances in spite of their characters' lack of sense, but that hardly makes up for the rest.

On a late night in Portland, Harry Stevenson (Freeman) is having a sleepless night. His wife Esther (Jane Alexander) stirs, but he tells her not to worry. He goes for a stroll and remembers back to a year and a half ago. He is now at a women's softball game on the campus where he teaches and meets Bradley (Greg Kinnear), who runs a local coffee shop and whose wife Kathryn (Selma Blair) is playing the game. They all go out for drinks, and Kathryn is approached by Jenny (Stana Katic), who played for the other team and comes on strong to her. Harry notices; Bradley is oblivious. Later, Bradley takes his wife to the local pound to try and help her get over her fear of dogs, and he tells Harry he's decided to buy her one. Meanwhile, Harry notices another love connection between coffee clerk Oscar (Toby Hemmingway) and job applicant Chloe (Alexa Davalos), and Kathryn and Jenny begin an affair. Things start well for both couples, although the latter has its obvious toll on Bradley. The young, star-crossed coffee shop lovers have a complication in the form of Oscar's drunken father (Fred Ward), and Bradley is about to get into more woman trouble with realtor Diana (Radha Mitchell).

It doesn't end there, though, and Burnett's script is full of more forced complications to add even more frustration to the already frustrating concept. Diana continues an affair with rich jerk David (Billy Burke) even while getting into a deeper relationship with Bradley. Even though Harry, a professor at the local university, apparently has a doctorate in love, he doesn't bother to tell his friend about the concept of a rebound. Chloe and Oscar are asked to participate in a sex tape business. Chloe convinces herself that as long as she doesn't do it for the money, it won't be wrong, although the only reason she contemplates doing it is that she and Oscar can get an apartment of their own. So basically, she's doing it for the money. Chloe sees a fortune-teller (Margo Martindale), who has tragic future news for the happy couple and states the obvious that Oscar's future prospects are not good. A former junkie who lives with his drunken father, says he can be mean too, and works at a coffee shop—don't really need a fortune-teller to see that.

Also, there are cryptic hints to Harry's son, who's dead and prompts Harry to advise Chloe to have two children, in case one of them dies, I guess. Harry does have some sound advice on occasion. He finally tells Bradley to stay alert to signs, like, for example, when Diana tells Bradley on their wedding night that she believes love is just a trick pulled by nature to encourage repopulation. How romantic. Just about as romantic a sentiment is when Bradley purposely slices off the tip of pinky finger (He's no Van Gogh).. It's all supposed to be about the happiness, sadness, and craziness love causes, but it just comes across as someone repeatedly hitting us over the head with the most extreme examples of those feelings. Benton and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau film in a grainy stock, but the artificial character and narrative elements belie the attempt at realism. Fortunately, the actors treat the material with genuine sincerity, especially Freeman, who can say these incredibly sappy lines and make them sound somewhat wise, and Greg Kinnear, who's likeable even though his character is slow on the uptake about everything regarding the opposite sex.

Replace these actors with others, and Feast of Love would be perfect for television. Instead, the script is given better treatment than it deserves, by a director who thinks he can find deeper levels in something inherently shallow and actors who feel similarly. They all deserve better than this.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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