Please pass Judge Daniel MacDonald the salt.
A story for anyone with an appetite for love.
Does Feast of Love provide cinematic sustenance or empty calories?
Facts of the Case
An ensemble picture with multiple converging storylines, Feast of Love revolves around Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman, Million Dollar Baby), a damaged university professor spending a good deal of his leave of absence hanging out at a small Portland coffee shop run by his good friend Bradley (Greg Kinnear, Unknown). Harry's remarkably perceptive: he can see Bradley's marriage falling apart long before it happens, just as he can see Cupid's arrow strike Bradley's sole employee Oscar (Toby Hemingway, The Covenant) in the ass the moment Chloe (Alexa Davalos, The Chronicles of Riddick) walks in the door. But all of his insight into others might just be to void looking at himself.
Added to the mix of lovestruck adventurers are Bradley's sexually awakened wife Kathryn (Selma Blair, Hellboy), a wealthy real estate agent (Radha Mitchell, Silent Hill) and her married lover (Billy Burke, Ladder 49), and Oscar's alcoholic—and psychotic—father (Fred Ward, Tremors). Much coupling, uncoupling, and recoupling ensues.
It's difficult to describe Feast of Love without it sounding like sentimental tripe, and I held out little hope for liking it; indeed, the sole point of interest for me was the involvement of director Robert Benton (Kramer vs. Kramer), whose work I've always found to be consistently solid. But what would draw Benton—and this strong cast led by Freeman—to such a seemingly whimsical tale?
By the time the credits roll, that question is answered. Feast of Love pulls off an impressive balancing act of stretching realism for the sake of telling a good tale while never losing its sense of grounding. Feast of Love strives for, and more often than not achieves, emotional truth, and with that goal in mind such things as realistic timeframes give way to unlikely coincidences, yet we never stop buying into the story. The tone is solidly in comedy-drama territory, not fairy tale; this is no Amelie.
Harsh truths spoken harshly line up beside bold, idealistic pronouncements of love, and the more time we spend with these characters the more we appreciate those quirks that make them feel human. Intriguingly dim, Bradley wears his flaws on his sleeve, and in most of the situations he finds himself, we can see right away how badly it will end. Yet we don't hold it against him: he's not naive, he's just Bradley. Harry, played with masterful subtlety and understatement by Freeman, starts out an apparent sage, yet he needs more healing than anyone. Nearly everyone in Feast of Love reveals unexpected layers as the story plays out.
I say nearly everyone because, as can happen in ensemble pieces, there's just not enough time to give every character his or her due, inevitably resulting in a few perfunctory shells. The worst victim is easily Fred Ward as Oscar's abusive father, Bat. Bat has no arc whatsoever, showing up occasionally to tweak the tension in Oscar and Chloe's storyline by yelling and/or pulling a knife, with a rather unsatisfying final appearance. Not that Ward's bad in the role, there's just not much there, and frankly I think Bat could've been eliminated from the screenplay with little or no consequence.
It's not a perfect movie—more than a few lines of dialogue play like artificial sweetener. While that's necessary for some plot elements, Feast of Love's eighteen-month timeframe heals heartaches faster than you can say "rebound." To say many of the storylines are predictable is like saying Steven Seagal is slightly less popular than he used to be. But despite its flaws, Feast has a lot to love, with some truly profound moments and characters who resonate and are worth revisiting.
MGM has done justice to the earth-hued cinematography of Kramer Morgenthau, with solid blacks offsetting impressive shadow detail, and the liberal amounts of nudity illustrating natural skin tones. We were provided a watermarked check disc for review purposes, so I would assume that the occasional macro-blocking, edge halos, and noisy areas will not be present on the final pressing (although the score reflects the image that I saw). Dialogue has good timbre and music is nicely balanced through the surrounds, no issues to speak of on the audio front.
The sole special feature is a 12-minute featurette focusing on each main character and the actor portraying him or her. It's a light fluffy meringue of a supplement, not offering a whole lot of insight into…well, anything really.
While some might find Feast of Love to be overly schmaltzy, those who like it will like it a lot. Featuring across-the-board good performances, the sure directorial hand of Robert Benton, and some lovely compositions, this is an underrated gem. Recommended.
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