In 10 Words or Less
When it comes to love, sometimes we try too hard
Loves: Morgan Freeman
Likes: Greg Kinnear, Missi Pyle
Dislikes: Overbearing films
Hates: When love fails
Someone's mother once said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Well, I can say plenty of nice things about Feast of Love. The director, Robert Benton, has had an incredible career, writing Bonnie & Clyde and Superman and writing and directing Kramer vs. Kramer and Nobody's Fool, along with many other successful films. The cast of this movie is star-studded, with big stars like Morgan Freeman and Greg Kinnear, as well as under-appreciated actresses like Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair and Missi Pyle. The locations, which set the film in Portland, Oregon, are gorgeous to behold and make the film a treat for the eyes.
Ummm...boy, it's going to be hard to finish this review if I only say the nice things about this movie. So let's scrap that idea and be realistic: Feast of Love is an overwrought story about how people fall into and out of love, that barely even scratches the surface of what love really means, settling instead for fortune cookie-style platitudes about our place in the world and why we feel the way we do. It's almost a waste to see such a talented main cast, including up-and-coming stars Alexa Davalos and Toby Hemingway, who play the youngest couple in the film, get stuck with a script and story that is predictable and stereotypical to the point of being a joke. There are several points where you may just throw your hands up and wonder if the concepts were pulled from a paint-by-numbers movie-making kit.
The two main stars, Freeman and Kinnear, manage to rise above the material, as is normally the case with them, as they are able to make any role just work for them. As tortured college professor Harry, Freeman is his usual otherworldly self, possessing an understanding of our world that's beyond mere mortals, and a voice that is as comforting as a grandfather's hug, which makes his role as narrator completely appropriate. Similarly, Kinner is slipping on old shoes in playing Bradley, a good guy whose luck isn't that great, but who is charming as all get out. It's utterly believable that he'd be an aw-shucks kind of guy who just can't seem to find happiness with a lady, but who doesn't give up on the quest. Without the two of them to focus on, it's possible this movie would be near-unwatchable, but with them, it's merely a lengthy exercise in heartbreaking that's marked by apredilection toward nudity, as there are several sex scenes that don't leave much to the imagination. If the point of their inclusion was to make a statement about sex versus love, I must have missed it. Also missed on my part is the reason for casting Pyle as Bradley's sister (I guess,) only to use her in just one scene that's awkwardly bad; why the film eliminated a main character's storyline after spending the first 25 minutes with them, what Fred Ward did to deserve one of the most awful roles in recent history, and why we're supposed to buy the ending, which comes out of left field with the subtlety of a punch to the face.
Though I haven't read the Charles Baxter book this film is based upon, I have read enough about it to offer up two thoughts regarding its adaptation. First, if the film stuck closer to the book, it would have been infinitely more interesting, as the novel has a unique structure that warps the reality of the characters and makes the author part of the story, taking what's a somewhat straightforward story of love and loss and making it something new. Secondly, what works on the page rarely works in film when it comes to dialogue, and this movie feels like it stuck too close to the script, so to speak. As a result, you end up with some of the most hackneyed lines you'll ever hear, eliciting more groans and eyerolls, than empathy or sympathy for the characters. Combine that with many simply unbelievable moments, which also tend to work better in a novel than a movie, and you end up with a film that has good intentions, but which is hard to swallow, thanks to melodrama that's bigger than a horse pill.
We received the standard Fox screener to review, so there's no info about the packaging we can share, but the animated anamorphic widescreen main menu offers an option to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the special features. Audio options include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, while subtitles are available in English and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
Can't really give you a good idea on the video quality, as Fox watermarks their screeners, affecting the visual quality. The anamorphic widescreen transfer (apparently the final disc is a flipper with a full-frame version also) looks decent, with appropriate colors, though there is an excessive amount of grain during darker interior scenes, and the level of detail is decent, but not eye-popping. There is no noticeable dirt or damage.
The audio is very standard, keeping the dialogue front and center, with the side and rear speakers giving a boost to the film's music, which at times could use it, as the mix isn't the greatest, burying the song "Hallelujah" at one point, in a scene that might have been helped by it. On the other hand, the dialogue was rather clear and easy to understand. There was nothing obviously dynamic about the sound, coming off as the simple dramatic audio you'd expect.
There's just one extra on this DVD, a 12-minute featurette, "The Players," which focuses on the cast, one by one, letting the crew, and the other actors, pile on the praise for each other. There are some thoughts about the characters from those playing them, which makes it a bit more interesting than the usual DVD fluff, but in the end, it's a lot of apple polishing. Make sure to save this for later, as much of the plot is revealed here.
Apparently the disc that's being released in stores has a handful of other extras, including a commentary by Benton, but they weren't provided with this screener.
The Bottom Line
If you just piled up the resumes of the talent involved with this film, you'd never be able to predict the outcome, unless you realized the writer also brought us the dreadful Autumn in New York and it's been a while since Benton's had a hit. So there's no shame in getting tricked into sitting through this overlong meditation on love, and there are at least two enjoyable performances, a whole bunch of pretty, naked people and an overall beautiful film thanks to the setting and the excellent camerawork. Other than that, it's just not very good. The DVD may help, depending on the final release, though the extras I've seen won't tip the scale much. You've got to be either a huge fan of the two stars or fit in the odd intersection of chick flick and cynicism to get anything out of this movie. If the concept sounds interesting to you, you'd be better off checking out Mumford. It does a better job and has a sense of humor to boot.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.