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REVIEW | …or Famine: Robert Benton’s “Feast of Love”

REVIEW | ...or Famine: Robert Benton's "Feast of Love"

A disclaimer: If your immediate reaction to seeing the title “Feast of Love” appear on-screen accompanied by what sounds like music from a rainforest documentary is anything other than “Oh, God, I’m in the wrong movie!” it’s probable that we approach film art from across an unbridgeable divide. And therefore my following opining would mean less to you than were it written in Sumerian.

Portland, Oregon. The vicinity of a college campus. Harry Scott (Morgan Freeman) is a philosophy professor on an extended leave of absence following the unexpected death of his son. So Harry spends his days at the local coffee shop, a fine vantage point from which to observe the foibles of love amongst frisky neighborhood Caucasians, whose flirtations he benedicts with a benevolent smile. Periodically he dispenses soft-serve homilies on life and love, and intones lines, in that commanding voice-over, such as, “Bradley looked up from the paper one day and realized, no one burns for him.”

The “Bradley” in question is one of Harry’s chief charges (played by Greg Kinnear, drawing heavily on his Jack Lemmon-like simpering), an unlucky-in-love coffee shop owner whose niceness seems to have earmarked him for cuckolding. The good professor also takes a special paternal interest in young couple Oscar (human anime Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos), intended as representatives of the wide-eyed innocence of first love–though, in sharing their dreams of a high-living future that consists of a house with a “giggle” foyer, they come off less as pure-souled naifs than vacuous idiots without foreseeable future prospects. Additional bile is raised by scoring their canoodling to that overused soundtrack standby Jeff Buckley‘s “Hallelujah.” It’s unsupportable enough that Dr. Scott, a man of supposed erudition (well, the prop department usually hands him a book, anyhow) would invest so much time in these two twitterpated halfwits, but that he would encourage them to mate goes against the principles of intelligent men everywhere.

The press kit alleges a debt to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which might be defensible on some level, though if you ever doubt the imbecility of the men who make movies, observe their constant drive to recycle Shakespearean plots–twaddle, now-as-then meant to amuse mouth-breathing groundlings while dispensing with the poetry. Any attempt to transcend the prosaic here come from DP Kramer Morgenthau, who sun-dapples softcore couplings and sends atomic-grade blasts of tangerine light exploding through windows for Thomas Kinkade-grade magic realism. The sum total of it all is a shameless flattering of the preconceptions of an inscribed lefty audience, with the lone villain coming in the form of Oscar’s alky dad, played by Fred Ward, shouldering the stock part of Angry Poor White Trash. All this rancor towards an undoubtedly well-meaning movie may seem a bit much, but when you live somewhere with one “art”-house option, and a steamer like this clogs up a precious screen for five weeks, it can really ruin your life.

[Nick Pinkerton is a Reverse Shot staff writer and writes for Stop Smiling and the Village Voice.]

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