Sorry folks, there's no thumbprint of love to be found in this picture. Perhaps a better title would've been, "Feast of Misery" or "Feast of Loathsome Characters You Wouldn't Want to Spend a Second Around, Much Less 100 of the More Painful Minutes You'll Find This Year at the Movies."
I guess that wouldn't fit as snugly on a marquee.
Bradley (Greg Kinnear) is unlucky in love, having watched one wife (Selma Blair) run off with another woman, and a second (Radha Mitchell) having trouble giving up her boyfriend (Billy Burke). Chloe (Alexa Davalos) is a free-spirit who falls in love with coffee shop clerk Oscar (Toby Hemingway), and the two dream of a future together to escape a very unpleasant present. Harry (Morgan Freeman) is the center of this loveless world, helping Bradley with his woes, offering Chloe advice, and dealing with his own guilt over the loss of his son.
To be fair, "Feast of Love" is an adaptation of a novel by Charles Baxter, who had the page count luxury to embellish these characters any way he chose. The big-screen version is faced with an impossible task of trying to transform the leisurely words into hurried moving images. It's nearly tragic how much "Feast" bungles this ambition.
What's worse is that "Feast" was directed by Robert Benton, a filmmaker prone to folly, but a veteran of the industry with enough experience to realize this was a useless endeavor from the start. Benton and screenwriter Allison Burnett approach the material with a haunted tone, using an airy, melodramatic atmosphere to better dive into this gelatinous muck of personal problems. There are numerous subplots here to follow, most coming to abrupt ends simply because there's not enough breathing room assigned to any of the characters. Benton is more concerned with pulling off a majestic tone of healing than tending to his individual pieces, and the film is torn apart by his neglect.
"Feast" is a disorderly picture chasing themes of love and forgiveness, but with so much swirling around the plot, it's impossible to find a clear idea of what Benton is trying to convey. It doesn't help matters when some of these subplots, perhaps crucial elements in the Burnett book, are unforgivably silly on the screen. What else can one do but laugh when watching Chloe and Oscar turn to making homemade porn to help purchase their dream house or watch the inclusion of Oscar's violent, hick father, played with cartoon spittoon hilarity by a ridiculous Fred Ward.
The madness extends to the characters themselves, who are all a bunch of loutish morons who mope around the frame, completely drenched in their own self-made misery. Without any digestible moment of intelligence, it makes an entire film watching these wackos feel like forced participation in a dog food eating contest. Of course, it's always nice to have respectable talent like Freeman and Kinnear around to soften the blow, but they're 20% of the troupe. The rest don't have a single clue how to manipulate their way to one instant of resonating emotion.
Just to make matters more bizarre, "Feast of Love," which is ostensibly a story of gentle means to heart fulfillment, is packed with somewhat graphic scenes of sexuality. It's tough to buy the romantic intentions of the piece when the participants are grinding on each other like a Vivid Video production, or occasionally, and I wish I was making this up, on the 50-yard-line at the local football stadium (which is open to the public to visit at all hours it seems). Morose, multi-character sap like this needs more than oddball titillation to rage through the myriad of problems it faces, but there's something endearing in the way Benton assumes a little full-frontal is enough to erase the bile that develops watching this agonizing marathon of navel-gazing.
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