‘Feast of Love’ slightly full of itself


By Steven Snyder

For a movie titled “Feast of Love,” there is a conspicuous absence of love in the lives of its central characters. Directed by Robert Benton, who from 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer” up through 2003’s “The Human Stain” has chased stories of emotional trauma and turmoil, “Feast of Love” is a movie about supposedly happy people who realize they are anything but.

Take, for example, Bradley (Greg Kinnear), the happily married coffee shop owner abandoned suddenly by a wife who has fallen in love with another woman. Or Diana (Radha Mitchell), the realtor who loses herself in one sweaty afternoon sexual encounter after another with a married man — a man she loves, but a man who refuses to leave his wife. Then there’s Harry (Morgan Freeman), the all-wise, all-knowing narrator of the film who seems to have everything figured out, but who has a gaping hole in his heart from a loss so painful he refuses to speak about it. Which doesn’t even touch upon the teenager seeking love from an abusive father, the fight between a grown-up and a child over the love of a puppy or the unrequited love that is showered down on the movie’s newborns, both expected and unexpected.

The real feast of love on display here is that of Benton for his characters, and the love that is alluded to in Freeman’s narration — the love that the gods shower down on their creations. Serving as the film’s resident voice of God, Freeman is ever the watcher, observing the parade of joys and stumbles that happen upon these many characters, relegated to looking until he himself is moved in the film’s final scene to act decisively, showing his notion of love in a most unexpected way.

Amid material that could so easily have become preachy, pretentious or, in a post-“American Beauty” era, predictable, Benton bases the film around performances that range from the brave and the bold to the timid and the tired of waiting. Leading the way, though, are Kinnear, giving Bradley a balance of both hope and humility, and Freeman, who succeeds in bestowing Harry with the gravitas needed to serve as the movie’s focal point while still keeping him grounded as a plausible, flawed human being.

If the movie makes any missteps, it’s that there’s too much love flowing between these characters, and too much drama surrounding people perpetually caught at pivotal moments of their lives. Not a day goes by, it seems, that Bradley is not questioning the nature of love, or his larger purpose as a human being. Similarly, Harry seems constantly to be meditating on the human condition, and observing profound moments. There’s little sense of normalcy here, but a sustained sense of immensity. As a result, the movie feels titled towards the extremes, where love is not so much a place of contentment as a relentless search for the greater “what if?”

Though ultimately, that may be the precise point. Each of these characters looks to others for validation and fulfillment. They say the words “I love you” not so much as a statement of fact but as a question fueled by doubt and insecurity. Perhaps this is why in the film we witness several acts of self-sacrifice, where love starts to manifest itself independently of what others might think or say. Perhaps this feast is not about the eating, but about the cooking — not about receiving love, but giving out the love as freely as possible. It’s this theme that rises above all others, as Benton’s camera rises and drifts away — that love is less an end than a beginning.