Feast of Love
Feast of Love, the latest film from veteran filmmaker Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer, Places in the Heart), is an easily recognized type of drama: the "ensemble cross-section" film. Taking place in a smallish town in Oregon, the film (based on a book by Charles Baxter) unfolds in mini sketches and loosely connected plotlines. In this case, the various threads are woven around the not-so-incendiary theme of love, or "feasting on love."
Like in a buffet, the film offers up plenty of sensuous pleasures, and its characters dwell in the hedonistic mode implied in the title: live for the moment, seize upon desire, and feast on all pleasures while you can. For a film so devoted to a "live in the moment" ethic of pleasure, however, Feast is not a very enjoyable experience. In fact, it's downright dreary.
The film's menu of bite-size characters in half-baked melodramatic scenarios is far less appetizing than it should be. Morgan Freeman anchors the cast, as the friendly neighborhood sage who everyone goes to for advice. As a wine-drinking professor in a happy marriage with Esther (a very weepy Jane Alexander), Freeman is easily the most likable character. Still, it is unfortunate to see a great actor like Freeman in yet another clone role as the wise elder black man who is both the moral compass, narrator, and God-like observer of the troubled lives all around him.
Chief among Freeman's advice-hungry friends is Bradley (Greg Kinnear), a relationship-troubled schmuck who runs a coffeehouse (which conveniently serves as the intersection point of many of the characters and storylines—similar to "Central Perk" in Friends). Early in the film, Bradley's wife (Selma Blair) suddenly falls for an attractive woman on her softball team, decides she's a lesbian, and divorces him. On the rebound, Bradley meets and starts dating a foxy real estate agent, Diana (Radha Mitchell), who is having an affair with a married man (Billy Burke)—a fact which eventually destroys their relationship and leaves Bradley alone once again, this time suicidal.
The other main storyline follows a pretty conventional romance between two young lovers, Chloe (Alexa Davalos) and Oscar (Toby Hemingway)—baristas who work at Bradley's coffeehouse. They fall into a blissful romance built upon "love" at first sight, though Oscar's drunken father (Fred Ward in a comically stereotypical performance) tries to break them up. Eventually their romance ends in tragedy—an event that is bizarrely predicted by a palm reader midway through the film.
If all of the above sounds stark, convoluted, and clichéd, it is because it is. Feast of Love is a film that tries so hard to be something of substance that it fails to be anything but superficial and annoying. Benton, whose last film (The Human Stain) was also a failure that plunged good actors into flat roles, seems to have aimed for a Robert Altman level of slice-of-life profundity, but falls short of Altman-esque excellence.
There are many things wrong with Feast, but perhaps its most common flaw is in its failure to sell us on any of the relationships. From the get-go, we see couples pair off with little to no explanation as to why or how they developed their relationship. A pair of women share a sexy stare-off, and the next minute we see them in bed together. The same story with Chloe and Oscar. Before we hear them exchange five sentences, we jump to a scene of them having sex. The film has an urgent obsession with capturing characters in the act of love-making, but it unfortunately ignores the deeper layers and processes of love.