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Feast of Love

The characters who mix and mingle in Robert Benton's Feast of Love represent what they stand for than to stand for themselves.

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Greg Kinnear is dogged by relationships in Feast of Love.
  • Greg Kinnear is dogged by relationships in Feast of Love.
 The characters who mix and mingle in director Robert Benton's Feast of Love are just that: characters in a tragi-comedy, designed more to represent what they stand for than to stand for themselves. Their dramas -- and their lives -- unravel in a tiny little town called Portland, Ore., where everyone seems to run into everyone just about everywhere.

Prof. Harry Scott (Morgan Freeman), wise and patient, is the Zeus to whom everyone turns for advice. His wife (Jane Alexander), appropriately, is named Esther, after that most Biblical of heroines. Brad Smith (Greg Kinnear) is the sanguine, good-hearted Everyman. He owns a charming little coffee shop named Jitters, and he dotes on his wife (Selma Blair), who seems to be afraid of life.

Actually, she's just afraid of Brad. Not the real Brad: the symbolic Brad, the Man. She's repressing her lesbianism, and when a brash gal on an opposing women's softball team comes on to her, she explodes with Sapphic desire and leaves her marriage. Meanwhile, Brad's young employee, Oscar (Toby Hemingway), falls in love-at-first-sight with Chloé (Alexa Davalos), a spirited waif who added an accent to her name for flair. The professor even compares them to Romeo and Juliet.

Rounding out this weighty classical soap opera is Diana (Radha Mitchell), an aggressive real-estate agent having an affair with a cur of a married man (Billy Burke), whom she doesn't bother to mention to Brad when they meet and fall in love, although she does have the courtesy to quit the affair once she and Brad get married.

All of these people have little tragedies in their lives apart from the big tragedy of trying to figure out Love. Harry, the voice of hope, is the physician who can't heal himself. Will he find his own happiness? Of course he will. Benton makes sure we know this by injecting gentle humor throughout the story, as if to tell us: Wait for it, it's coming, just around the corner.

In the '70s and '80s, Benton wrote and directed good, thorough, wrenching films like Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart. A decade before that, he co-wrote Bonnie and Clyde. But lately he seems more content to make metaphor than drama. Feast of Love, which is based on a novel, recalls his 1994 film Nobody's Fool, which ambled along its melancholy way. It has many lovely insights about love and relationships, but every time the characters speak their wisdom, they become increasingly less real.

Feast of Love is more sexually explicit than most mainstream movies you see, although apparently the penis is still a shocker, and therefore unseen, whereas the vagina is our old pal. This feels very self-conscious after a while, the sort of thing that makes you question its integrity. If you're going to make a film about sexual behavior, you can't cut half of your characters off at the torso.

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