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September 24, 2007

The Feast of Love

Beastiary of Melodrama

Adaptation of Charles Baxter’s Novel Draws Bad Laughs
By Cole Smithey

Feast of loveCharles Baxter’s acclaimed "Midsummer Night's Dream"-inspired romantic novel receives a clumsy screen adaptation from director Robert Benton ("Kramer vs. Kramer"). Screenwriter Allison Burnett shifts the novel’s Ann Arbor setting to Portland, Oregon where a collection of artificially drawn lovers connect, and bail out, before uniting with new sweethearts. Morgan Freeman lends his all-too-familiar narration, speaking the author’s generic theme lines, to guide the audience through the brief maze of doomed pairings.

Harry Stevenson (Freeman) is a semi-retired university professor who advises local coffee shop owner Bradley (Greg Kinnear) on matters of the heart after Bradley’s fickle wife (Selma Blair) abandons their marriage for a lesbian affair with the short stop from a rival softball team. Bradley rebounds with Diana (Radha Mitchell), an oversexed realtor secretly keeping up an affair with a married and equally lascivious partner. Bradley is a textbook example of a self-help perfectionist who can’t see the forest for the trees. Instead of sizing Diana up for the sexpot that she is, and savoring the relationship for its sensual rewards, Bradley goes gooey and marries her.

Bradley’s youthful coffee shop employee Oscar (Toby Hemingway) is damaged goods due to a heroin-addicted past and life with an abusive alcoholic father named Bat (Fred Ward). Oscar finds love-at-first-site with a quirky girl named Chloe (Alexa Davalos). They promptly get married in spite of Bat’s physical threats. Good thing then that Oscar and Chloe befriend the empathetic Harry and his wife Esther (Jane Alexander), who carry the burden of having lost their only son to a drug overdose.

If all of this soft-soap-swapping seems overtly maudlin, it is. The tone of the movie slips from near comedic to sentimental between cliches of things like Oscar and Chloe having sex on the fifty-yard line of a football stadium beneath the stars. For all of Harry’s patronizing vocalization about the emotional physiology of his neighbors, there isn’t anyone here who sustains believability. The most interesting character is Jenny (Stana Katic), the lesbian shortstop whose subplot mysteriously evaporates before the end of the first reel.

Although Harry is its mascot, the story belongs to Bradley who maims himself with a kitchen knife late in the story. It’s a narrative miscalculation that the movie attempts to congratulate itself for when Bradley falls for a nurse who tends to his self-inflicted wound in an emergency room. "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" is one of Shakespeare’s lesser comedies, but "The Feast of Love" is a hodgepodge of sentimentality that’s neither funny nor tragic. It’s just bland.

Rated R. 102 mins. (D+) (One Star - out of five, no halves)




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