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Feast of Love
Directed by Robert Benton
With: Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Alexa Davalos, Selma Blair, Toby Hemingway, Jane Alexander, Billy Burke, Fred Ward, Missi Pyle, Stana Katic, Erika Marozsan, Shannon Lucio.
All you need is love, perhaps, but literature and movies require a bit more. "Feast of Love," which came and went in a heartbeat last fall, loads up on characters meant to illustrate the undeniable power of love, particularly the at-first-sight variety. "Love Actually" is the gold standard of this shameless genre; "Feast of Love," based on Charles Baxter's novel "The Feast of Love" and directed by Robert Benton ("The Human Stain," "Kramer vs. Kramer"), is not as ambitious at that British hit, nor does it have its humor, wit or warmth. Love has rarely seemed such a grim thing.
Coffee shop owner Bradley (Greg Kinnear), who just may be the nicest, most deserving-of-happiness guy in Portland, Ore., loses his wife (a snarky Selma Blair) to another woman and rushes into a relationship with a real estate agent (Radha Mitchell) who's just using him between bed bouts with her longtime married boyfriend (Billy Burke). Bradley's best pal is the much older Harry, a college professor who comes into Jitters every day for coffee and to dispense wisdom; everyone comes to Harry with their problems, and it's no wonder when he's played by Mr. Sympathetic himself, Morgan Freeman. The movie features narration by guess who. (For every graceful line Freeman reads, like "Bradley looked up from his paper one day and realized no one burns for him," there is a howler like "Sometimes you don't know you've crossed a line until you're on the other side." Well ... yeah.)
Providing teen and twentysomething viewers with some lovers to root for are Oscar (Toby Hemingway), the sweetest former junkie in Portland, and Chloe (Alexa Davalos), a beautiful girl who clearly represents The Life Force. Oscar seems to be Bradley's sole employee at Jitters -- until the beautiful Chloe gets a peek at the blond boy and immediately asks for a job. Chloe is an orphan, and Oscar's mother left him and his abusive father (Fred Ward) long ago, so of course, it's love.
The movie mixes romance with such downbeat material as the mourning of a dead son, a jarring threat of violence and a key character's sudden death. The tonal problem is exacerbated by a comic bit in which Bradley gets a dog for his wife only to have it "adopted" by his sister (Missi Pyle in a brief, funny appearance). Add explicit sex and full frontal nudity, and you have a strange if nevertheless engrossing movie.
The two-sided "Feast of Love" disc is about what you'd expect for an underperforming Hollywood release: a decent transfer but few bonuses. One side of the DVD presents the film in its theatrical widescreen format (2.40:1), while the other side contains a formatted full-screen (1.33:1) picture that manages to keep all important visual information on screen; you never sense any unnatural panning or faces being half out of frame. The main menu and features are identical on both sides of the DVD. Pop the disc in and you automatically get trailers for "Death at a Funeral" and "2 Days in Paris." The disc offers 28 scene selections; a choice of 5.1 Dolby Surround sound, Spanish Dolby Surround or French Dolby Surround; optional English or Spanish subtitles; and a lone extra, "The Players."
The latter is a 12-minute collage of interviews with the stars, the producers and the director, Robert Benton. It's the usual praise-all-around affair, with several people explaining that one of Benton's great talents is in casting the right actors; once that's done, he provides very little direction to the cast. Which is all well and good, but you wish Benton had drawn a tougher performance out of Greg Kinnear, whose Bradley is so timid, sweet and Beta male, you never believe he could run a business, let alone attract the strong women that he does.
A movie with an identity problem, "Feast of Love" looks on the surface to be a chick-friendly romantic comedy, but it soon takes on darker, almost sinister tones. Aside from Greg Kinnear's sad-puppy performance as a lovelorn divorced coffee shop owner, the cast in this multistranded story about people in search of love is strong. Morgan Freeman does his usual old-sage thing, while the younger stars Radha Mitchell and Alexa Davalos bring passion (and fearless sexuality) to their parts. The movie, shot in suburban areas of Portland, Ore., looks fine and is decently presented on this no-nonsense disc.