© 2007 Ray Wong
Like its title, Feast of Love is unabashedly frank about what the story is about: Love. Different kinds and shades of love, all through the eyes of a professor who knows a few things about love and loss.
Portland professor Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman) is a keen observer of human behaviors and relationships. He's good friends with Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), the owner of a local coffee shop who also is a hopelessly romantic artist. Bradley is oblivious that his wife, Kathryn (Selma Blair), is falling in love with another woman; Harry sees that, but he only observes and not interferes. His thought is that people need to work out their own kinks.
After his divorce, Bradley falls in love again (quickly) with real estate agent Diana (Radha Mitchell), who is having a secret affair with married man David (Billy Burke). Dissatisfied with her affair, Diana agrees to marry Bradley even though she doesn't love him. Unable to see through Diana's veil, Bradley continues to be oblivious to everything that is going on around him.
Meanwhile, Bradley's employees Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos) fall madly in love with each other. Young and idealistic, they dream of a future despite the fact that they are poor and Oscar is a recovering junkie. Chloe looks to Harry for advice; but instead of telling them what is right or wrong, Harry prefers to let them decide for themselves. Soon, Harry regrets his own action as he realizes his lack of strong opinions and proactive actions may have led to his own son's death a year earlier, leaving a gaping hole in his and his wife's (Jane Alexander) lives.
Morgan Freeman (Evan Almighty) is genuinely likable as Harry Steveson. The problem with the role is that it is rather passive, serving mostly as an observer instead of the protagonist. In fact, there's no clear protagonist in this ensemble drama. Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine) plays the average Joe to perfection, but I'm not sure if I'm convinced that a guy like him could be so blind as far as relationships are concerned.
Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) is radiant as Diana, the deceitful adulterer who wins Bradley's heart. Unfortunately, the character is too morally damaged that it's not easy to find sympathy for her. Same with her onscreen lover, David, played effectively by Billy Burke (Fracture). The good thing about the pair is that they have an immense chemistry together, making it more relevant when David says, "We're the same kind of people."
Alexa Davalos (The Chronicles of Riddick) and Toby Hemingway (The Covenant) play the young, star-crossed lovers with heart and soul. Davalos, in particular, shows great emotional range and depth. Their romantic yearnings and devotion to each other earn our devoting in return. Selma Blair (Purple Violets) has a relatively small role as Bradley's lesbian wife, and plays the character who is just coming out of her shell with fine humanity and vulnerability (although a bit heartless and bitter as well). In contrast, Jane Alexander (Fur) is all warmth and sensible as Harry's grieving wife.
Written by Allison Burnett (Resurrecting the Champ) and based on Charles' Baxter's novel, the script has a tender, slice-of-life feel to it. Not overtly quirky or melodramatic, the story touches on many aspects of love: parental, romantic, friendly, even love for our pets. Through a series of intersecting relationships among the main characters, the story explores separate threads, with Harry Stevenson as the hinge. At times, the plot seems rather mundane and slow, without any real drama or high-stake conflicts. There is much philosophizing, and not enough action. Some of the characters are rather unlikable and it's not easy to relate to them.
However, there are many genuine moments that pack strong emotional punches. Under the skillful direction of Robert Benton (The Human Stain), the story slowly reveals information about these character, keeping us guessing. The relationships among these characters feel authentic and real (with the exception of Oscar's father, a caricature played by Fred Ward). The dialogue is insightful and witty. The love scenes are integral parts of the movie, nothing gratuitous.
And like its narrator, the film doesn't want to pass any moral judgment -- there seems to have only one gratuitous villain (Fred Ward). The characters and their story threads serve as an intricate juxtaposition with one another -- here we have an older loving couple who are holding on to their love after a huge loss; a young, inexperienced couple who find their soulmates; a man who is so idealistic that he lets his romantic notions blind him; and finally, a deceitful couple whose only redemption is through revealing their flaws and accepting the consequences of their lies and eventually their true love for each other. Through these relationships, we get a glimpse of what the feast of love is all about.
Stars: Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Billy Burke, Selma Blair, Alexa Davalos, Toby Hemingway, Jane Alexander, Fred Ward
Director: Robert Benton
Writers: Allison Burnett (based on Charles Baxter's novel)
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Script – 7
Performance – 7
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 7.1 out of 10