- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

There are very few movies in which one character saying to another the three simple words “I love you” can bring a tear to the eye. “Feast of Love” is one of those films.

True to its title, the movie is full of feeling but, thankfully, not sentimentality. That’s thanks to the sure hand of its director, Robert Benton, the veteran helmer of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Places in the Heart.”

Based on the novel by Charles Baxter, “Feast of Love” follows a handful of interconnected and troubled couples in Portland, Ore. Bradley (Greg Kinnear) doesn’t realize that he’s losing his wife Kathryn (Selma Blair) to another woman. Once he does, it doesn’t take him too long to fall hard for the wrong woman again: Diana (Radha Mitchell) is a real estate agent who can’t seem to end her affair with the married David (Billy Burke).

Bradley runs a coffeehouse where the young couple Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos) work and fall madly in love — to the consternation of Oscar’s abusive single father, nicknamed Bat (Fred Ward). Bradley’s good friend and frequent customer is Harry (Morgan Freeman), a philosophy professor who, along with his wife Esther (Jane Alexander), is still mourning the untimely death of his only child.

Bradley, like his young charges Oscar and Chloe, is a hopeless romantic. Time and again, the open-hearted guy gets kicked around by the women in his life, but he never loses his belief that emotional connection is what makes life important.

“Do you think love is just a trick nature plays to make us have more babies, or do you think it’s everything, the only meaning there is to this crazy dream?” he asks more than once. It’s obvious on which side of the dichotomy he falls.

You might think that’s the theme of “Feast of Love,” but there’s another, more interesting one running through the film: emotional vigilance.

“We’ve just got to stay alert,” one character blindsided by damage tells another. “Everything that’s happening is going on right in front of our eyes.”

Bradley never sees Kathryn’s affair coming. Bat doesn’t see how good Chloe is for Oscar. But we do, through the eyes of Harry, the film’s most watchful character. Pay attention, the film seems to be urging us. Our fellow human beings have needs too, which they’ll fight to fulfill, no matter the consequences.

As Harry, Mr. Freeman heads one of the best ensemble casts of the year, bringing the various threads of the film together with his role as a wise and literate observer. He’s aided by a bevy of strong talent, from underrated vets like Mr. Kinnear and Miss Blair, to talent-to-watch Miss Davalos and Mr. Hemingway.

The characters seem — just sometimes and just in some senses — a little too perfect. Bradley is all too quick to forgive, and there’s no way the young Oscar would have such a picture-perfect bedroom. But those are quibbles, and they won’t keep you from gaining much sustenance from this “Feast of Love.”

***

TITLE: “Feast of Love”

RATING: R (strong sexual content, nudity and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Robert Benton. Written by Allison Burnett based on the novel by Charles Baxter

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: www.feastoflovefilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS.

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