Jeer de Fête
Ensemble Relationship Drama Feels More Like A Famine
In Feast of Love, Morgan Freeman plays a lightning rod of sorts for love and human dysfunction. Wherever he goes, people tend to fall for each other or break apart while he watches and pontificates via pretentious narration about the nature of our most revered emotion. There is no supernatural reason for this; we're just supposed to accept it as cosmic coincidence, just like we're supposed to accept that his character, Professor Harry Stevenson, no longer feels he can contribute to his students' lives even as he demonstrates time and time again that he has a profound understanding of human beings. His self-doubt stems from the recent death of his son from a drug overdose, a story line that's given so little screen time that, whenever it's mentioned, it takes a moment to remember that Harry, like everybody else in the movie, has experienced great tragedy. It's too bad because Feast of Love, adapted from Charles Baxter's equally pretentious book, would have worked as a deft study of human interaction if not for its inability to have fun with itself. There is so little joy in the ensemble drama's stories that you begin to imagine that love, even when it's being experienced, isn't worth it at all.
Take Bradley (Greg Kinnear), the coffee-shop owner who loves so intensely and so blindly that he convinces himself that his wife (Selma Blair), who is terrified of dogs, actually wants him to buy her one for her birthday after, in an effort to heal her fear, he forces her to visit a pound and she rebelliously names a sad, pathetic-looking dog "Bradley." He also misses the fact that his wife fell in love with a rival softball team's female shortstop right in front of his eyes; Harry, of course, notices. Bradley misses such observations with his second wife, too; Radha Mitchell's Diana marries him because she can't find any "disqualifiers" in his personality and life, even though she's desperately in love with a married man (Billy Burke).
Bradley's successful coffeeshop--which apparently only requires the owner and two employees to operate daily--serves as the conduit for another passionate love affair. The angel-faced ex-junkie Oscar (Toby Hemingway) quickly falls head over heels for his new co-worker, the spirited Chloe (Alexa Davalos), and before long they have sex everywhere they can. There's even a spectacular love scene on the 50-yard line of the local college's football stadium under a meteor shower that, despite some lazy editing, remains memorable. Soon the two broke kids are planning to move in together, even going so far as to make a pornographic tape to pay rent. But a visit to a psychic reveals to Chloe that Oscar's time on earth is limited, so she buys him a cheeseburger and asks him to marry her. She quickly tosses away her birth control and ends up pregnant despite the inevitable.
Diana's relationship with David (Burke) is the movie's most complex, authentic, and insightful. At first it appears the two only connect through sex--lots of it, incredibly graphic sex, too. As Diana reveals more of her relationship with Bradley to David, though, her lover becomes jealous and, of all things, defensive of Bradley. David, after all, married his wife for love and spent 11 years trying to make it work even after the love was gone. Diana, whom he now perceives as a monster, is willing to marry a man she doesn't love and destroy his life, too. The bedroom argument during which this plays out is the movie's best sequence.
Feast of Love should not be such a disappointment. Screenwriter Allison Burnett fixed the glaring structural and narrative problems of a well-intentioned novel and veteran director Robert Benton got plenty of great performances from his cast, especially Kinnear, Davalos, and Burke. But ultimately the script adheres too closely to a text that often read more like a Chicken Soup guide to romantic philosophy than a serious meditation on modern relationships and Benton's attempts to paint scenes in color resulted in an overindulgent lushness that often drowns the senses. Like Baxter, the filmmakers wanted to load every scene with profundity, but they didn't stop to consider that there wasn't much there to begin with.