The most-real characters are the ones we see the least.
By CHRISTY LEMIRE
AP MOVIE CRITIC
That “Feast of Love” is an overstuffed melodrama, better suited for broadcast as a TV movie of the week than as a theatrical release, is bad enough.
That it comes from Robert Benton, a veteran whose output has slowly, steadily declined in quality since writing “Bonnie and Clyde” and writing and directing “Kramer vs. Kramer,” is just plain sad.
But what’s truly troubling is the way the film, written by Allison Burnett based on the novel by Charles Baxter, regards women as idiots and objects.
Every actress gets fully, gratuitously naked at some point (except Jane Alexander, who manages to maintain some dignity alongside Morgan Freeman as her husband).
One (played by Selma Blair) abruptly leaves her husband (Greg Kinnear) for another woman — a stereotypical, softball-playing, predatory lesbian. Another (Alexa Davalos) consults a psychic about her blossoming romance with a fellow coffee house employee (Toby Hemingway), then goes into a tizzy of wedding and baby planning based on the forecast.
The worst (Radha Mitchell) is involved with a married man (Billy Burke), then marries Kinnear’s character Bradley for stability rather than love, yet maintains the affair with this person who’s quick to slap her across the face and call her the most profane word you can hurl at a woman.
(Spoiler alert! These two will eventually end up with each other after various permutations. And we’re supposed to be happy about this.)
This is a romantic comedy? Sounds more like the guest list for “Dr. Phil.”
What it’s like
All of these entanglements take place in and around the Portland, Ore., coffee house that Bradley owns. It’s like “Friends” without the funny. Oh, wait — that’s redundant.
Bradley is a hopeless romantic, which serves him well when his wife, Kathryn, hops into another woman’s Jeep, and then her bed. At least he’s optimistic enough to try to find love again — which he does with Diana (Mitchell), a real estate agent we can tell is a femme fatale from the moment we (and Bradley) meet her, because she immediately smokes a cigarette inside the coffee house when a thunderstorm knocks out the power.
Then Diana’s off for an afternoon tryst with her two-dimensionally arrogant paramour, David (Burke), who will never leave his wife for her. Suddenly, nice-guy Bradley doesn’t sound like such a terrible alternative.
A far more pure and passionate coupling occurs between hippie-chick Chloe (Davalos) and tormented Oscar (Hemingway), who instantly fall for each other when she walks into the coffee house looking for a job. She’s free-spirited and into astrology! He’s a former junkie who lives at home with his abusive, alcoholic dad (Fred Ward)!
Together they dream of having enough money to buy a house with a foyer and fill it with a million kids — the whole house, that is, though they do obsess about the foyer.
She’d warned him at the outset, though, “I think I scare guys off ’cause I’m so intense.” Guys love hearing that sort of thing.
In the middle of all this is Freeman’s Harry Stevenson, a local philosophy professor and regular customer who watches all these people falling in and out of love with — what else? — wry amusement. Since he’s played by Freeman, he also provides warm, fatherly advice and plenty of voiceover, such as: “Sometimes you don’t know you’ve crossed a line till you’re already on the other side.”
(He also functions as the mystical black man, another of the film’s unfortunate stereotypes and a role to which Freeman too often is relegated.)
He and Alexander do have a couple of lovely scenes together, though, as a longtime married couple who get involved in everyone’s lives to avoid the pain of grieving their dead son. They’re the only ones at this feast who feel even remotely like real people, and they’re the ones we see the least.