Hymn to Love Resonates
By Scott Holleran
Blending realistic romanticism with a shot of fatalism, the engaging Feast of Love is perfect for adults of all ages. This interlocking character picture is threaded through an idea, not driven by demographics, and the result is a poignant look at how people live and love, at their worst and at their best.
Avoiding the incredibly contrived coincidences that undermined Crash and Babel, writer Allison Burnett (Resurrecting the Champ) and director Robert Benton (The Human Stain, Kramer Vs. Kramer) have adapted novelist Charles Baxter’s book as a sober work of representational art laced with humor.
Opening under the glow of moonlight, we waft into the world of Harry (Morgan Freeman, never better), a reliable counselor to nearly every player in this Portland, Oregon, tale. His august tones provide a prologue to the story’s mythological love recast in today’s lives, times and language. When he comes upon a baseball diamond, we sense that Harry holds a secret, lost love.
The less said, the better, because peeling back the layers is Mr. Benton’s specialty and he rises to the occasion once again, enhancing what might have become pedestrian in less competent hands. Harry has his issues, which he shares with wife Esther (Kramer Vs. Kramer‘s Jane Alexander, reuniting with Mr. Benton). He patronizes a coffeehouse owned by Bradley (Greg Kinnear). Bradley’s café is manned by a pretty boy named Oscar (Toby Hemingway) who instantly falls for a passing stranger (Alexa Davalos, recalling Tatum O’Neal in Little Darlings) and so it goes.
From a cup of cappuccino poured into a heart-shaped foam to the twisted ravings of an abusive alcoholic father (Fred Ward), Feast of Love features a menu of love untold, unrequited and understood. After the movie’s departure point—a Jeep-driving softball player (Stana Katic) stirs a young woman’s (Selma Blair) passion—the central story shifts to a pair of amoral, illicit lovers (Billy Burke, Radha Mitchell) trapped in an extramarital affair. Their story, the least realistic and sympathetic, is the bridge back to innocence.
Of course, the walking wounded enter the picture and chief among these is idealistic small businessman Bradley, whose honesty goes underappreciated by needy, repressed women. His bond with Harry serves as Feast of Love‘s moral center and Kinnear is first-rate in the role.
The point to the loss and loneliness is that loving, like life, is ultimately reducible to reality, and the best one can do is love (not only in the romantic sense) while it’s ready and available, not unlike eating a good, hot meal. Feast of Love submits this simple lesson in little portions, leaving one to fill in the blanks. Accented by symbols—a teddy bear, a train in the distance, balloons drifting up and away—and a vague sense that whatever will be will be, Feast of Love doesn’t attempt to satiate the ravenous; it is sparingly flavored with irony and reverence for its topic.
In a beautifully lit scene in front of a mirror, Harry’s precious but neglected Esther is gently brushing her hair in long, slow strokes. He comes upon her much as he had come upon the sports field early in the picture, only by now his secret is known and what he has to say leaves Esther whimpering in her husband’s arms.
With a gorgeous and proficient cast, smooth transitions and extended scenes of nudity and lovemaking, Mr. Benton emphasizes the response to values that is love—and is often rare and beautiful—and he unravels the coiled story in an inspiring movie that dares one to love and, having been hurt, choose bravely to begin to love again.
Posted October 2007 on Box Office Mojo