Feast of Love (United States, 2007)
It's a little surprising to encounter a film like Feast of Love in multiplexes, because it is made for adults. After a summer of pyrotechnics and incredibly dumb scripts, it's a change of pace to find something that aspires to run for 100 minutes without a gunshot or an explosion. A romantic drama based on Charles Baxter's difficult-to-adapt novel, the film takes us along the rocky journey associated with falling in love. The screenplay combines philosophy, melodrama, and clichés to engaging effect. Feast of Love's greatest strength is that it's about people and involves universal emotions. It's not great art but it is enjoyable soap opera.
When it comes to romance, Portland coffee shop owner Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear) is not the luckiest man in the world. He thinks he has found his perfect mate in Kathryn (Selma Blair), but they haven't been married for long before her wandering eye falls on another woman. She departs, leaving Bradley with only a dog for a companion. Because he believes that love is what makes life worth living, he tries again. This time, it's Diana (Radha Mitchell), a realtor. She's smart, pretty, and enjoys spending time with Bradley. But she's having an affair with David (Billy Burke), who can't understand why she's considering marrying this milquetoast. Her evasive answer to his simple question - "Do you love him?" - says all that needs to be said about the long-term prospects of this relationship.
Two couples exist in Bradley's orbit. The first is Harry and Esther Scott (Morgan Freeman and Jane Alexander), an elderly duo whose only son died of a drug overdose less than a year ago. Harry is a college philosophy professor on leave from his job. He stops by the coffee shop every day for a cup of Joe and to dispense advice to anyone who wants it. He also happens to be Bradley's next-door neighbor. The other couple is Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos), two twenty-somethings who work for Bradley and are madly, passionately in love.
Unpredictability is not one of Feast of Love's traits - it doesn't take a Magic 8 Ball to figure out exactly where these stories are going. After all, it appears that director Robert Benton agrees with Bradley's upbeat philosophy about love. The movie doesn't contain a cynical moment, which can make it appear a little naïve at times. And, even though there are moments of tragedy, the overall arc is ultimately life-affirming. Leaving the theater, I felt like I had spent an hour and a half in the company of people worth spending the time with. The film doesn't come close to the level of Benton's best-known productions - Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart, Nobody's Fool - but the same view of humanity is in evidence. Benton deals in characters not special effects.
Charles Baxter's novel is difficult to adapt because of its ever-shifting point-of-view. Allison Burnett's version streamlines the narrative, keeping most of the major plot points and character arcs intact. The adaptation is truncated but the voice remains the same. Fans of Baxter's work should be pleased with the result. It's not as rich or deep as the novel but it is cut from the same cloth. And, while none of the actors will receive Oscar nominations for their work here, many of them - including Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, and Alexa Davalos - imbue their on-screen alter egos with vitality and something close to nobility.
As one might expect of a story that is so unapologetically romantic, depictions of the physical act of love are not avoided. There's plenty of sex and nudity, but it's handled naturally and tastefully. There's never the sense that anything is gratuitous and there's no mingling of sex with violence (something that happens frequently in mainstream cinema). If there's a problem with the movie's narrative structure, it's that the leaps ahead in time often skip key aspects of the characters' relationships. For example, Bradley and Diana's courtship takes about three scenes from their first meeting to his proposal. It's difficult to mourn the inevitable disintegration of that marriage when we have so little invested in it.
Feast of Love gains a sheen of erudition via the character of Harry, who often acts as the movie's seer. Like many wise men, however, he is better at advising others than sorting out his own emotional troubles. This movie is for those who believe in the healing, regenerative power of love. The experience of watching it is not unlike that of sipping from an insulated cup at the coffee shop where much of the action takes place: relaxing, familiar, and non-confrontational. Feast of Love may not be memorable but it is pleasant.
Feast of Love (United States, 2007)
Cast: Morgan Freeman, Billy Burke, Jane Alexander, Fred Ward, Toby Hemingway, Alexa Davalos, Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair, Greg Kinnear, Erika Marozsan
Screenplay: Allison Burnett, based on the book by Charles Baxter
Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau
Music: Stephen Trask
U.S. Distributor: MGM