Feast of Love (2007): Directed by Benton, Narrated by Morgan Freeman

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

A sensitive directorial hand and some good performances arent enough to compensate for the conventionality of a melodramatic plot in Feast of Love.

Director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer) keeps this ensemble piece from collapsing into tedium, but the film never quite manages to achieve its stated goal of examining love in all its various forms and emotional complexity.

Covering 18 months in the lives of several residents of Portland, Oregon, Feast of Love is narrated by Harry (Morgan Freeman), a happily married college professor on leave who offers advice to the many younger friends in his life. They include Bradley (Greg Kinnear), a stereotypical nice guy who runs a popular coffee shop and gets his heart broken too easily by overestimating the strength of his relationships, most shockingly when his wife leaves him for another woman. At the shop also works Oscar (Toby Hemingway), a young man recovering from drug addiction who falls in love with Chloe (Alexa Davalos), a new employee whos smitten with him, too.

Into these peoples orbit walks Diana (Radha Mitchell), a real estate agent who offers to help Bradley find a new house. They begin to date, but Diana conceals from him the fact that shes simultaneously having an affair with David (Billy Burke), a married man. Diana respects and admires Bradley for his kindness and pure heart, but even when he asks her to marry him, shes unsure if she can break it off with David.

Adapted from a novel by Charles Baxter, Feast of Love is the sort of multi-character piece where the comings and goings of its protagonists offer different perspectives on the films central theme. In the case of Feast of Love, director Robert Benton and screenwriter Allison Burnett set their sights on love how different people (even within the same relationship) define it, how it changes over time, and how people of different ages hope to ensure it in their own lives.

Unfortunately, the movie rarely rises above a soap-opera style of minor dramatic problems and therefore never arrives at a thoughtful, universal discussion about the fragility and beauty of true love. In some ways, the characters are meant to be archetypes recognizable from other romantic comedies and tear-jerking dramas: the sensitive sweetheart, the gorgeous ice queen, the wise older couple, the brazenly romantic young lovebirds. But despite the heartfelt performances on display, these characters havent been drawn sharply enough to escape their overly familiar construction.

For instance, Kinnear is perfectly cast as the kind but nave Bradley, eternally optimistic that he can find his soulmate no matter how many times hes been devastated. But much of the characters success comes from Kinnears well-established sweet-natured persona; Bradley himself is a bit of a hopeless dope who behaves rather predictably. Radha Mitchells Diana suffers from the same handicap. Anyone whos seen her terrific turn in Woody Allens Melinda and Melinda can attest to her skill at portraying tightly-wound, emotionally delicate sirens, but Diana doesnt have nearly as many dimensions as her dual role from that earlier film did.

By condensing the books events into a feature-length movie, the filmmakers sometimes skimp on important developments within relationships, hampering a couples organic onscreen evolution from first meeting to a love affair to subsequent romantic challenges. Bradley and Dianas pairing is one of the movies central storylines, but because it must compete for screen time with all the other narratives, it barely asserts itself, greatly minimizing the audiences investment in its outcome.

To give Benton credit, the film could have settled for a cutesy patina of banal life lessons and adorable couplings, but he adds a welcome amount of frank sexuality to these interconnected stories that keeps the unadventurous plot from ever becoming a dull snooze. The prevalent nudity and screwing at first seems calculatedly shocking, but as it continues through the film it starts to feel natural, an acknowledgement that these grownups are grappling with adult relationships. Its a bold decision that unfortunately is one of the few daring choices in a movie that otherwise marches to a familiar beat, doling out the expected melodramatic twists (such as attempted suicide, one couples buried grief about a dead child, romantic betrayals, and a funeral scene) right on cue.

Feast of Love wont be considered a high water mark for any of its established actors, but one of its younger performers shows real promise. Alexa Davalos signed on for a generic role as Chloe, a typically free-spirited young woman who chooses to love a troubled young man without fear of the consequences, but she lends the character such gentle courage and genuine affection that Chloe ends up as more than a clich. Its more than can be said for Feast of Love in general, which tries to say something meaningful about love but, like Diana, has problems committing.

Credits

Running time: 102 minutes

Director: Robert Benton
Production companies: Lakeshore Entertainment, GreeneStreet Films, Revelations Entertainment
US distribution: MGM
Executive producers: David Scott Rubin, Eric Reid, Harley Tannebaum, Lori McCreary, Fisher Stevens, John Penotti
Producers: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Richard S. Wright
Screenplay: Allison Burnett, based on the novel by Charles Baxter
Cinematography: Kramer Morgenthau
Editor: Andrew Mondshein
Production design: Missy Stewart
Music: Stephen Trask

Cast

Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman)
Bradley (Greg Kinnear)
Diana (Radha Mitchell)
Esther (Jane Alexander)
Chloe (Alexa Davalos)
Oscar (Toby Hemingway)
Kathryn (Selma Blair)
David (Billy Burke)