Morgan Freeman narrates three intersecting love stories in a tranquil Oregon town
Release Date: Sept. 28
Director: Robert Benton
Screenplay: Allison Burnett
Based on the Novel by: Charles Baxter
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Selma Blair
Studio/Run Time: Lakeshore Entertainment/ MGM, 104 mins.
Based on Charles Baxter’s much beloved third novel (a finalist for the National Book Award in 2000), Feast of Love follows the romantic pratfalls of a trio of local couples. Troubled teens Chloé and Oscar (played desperately, frantically, by Alexa Davalos and Toby Hemingway) grind coffee together at Jitters, a local café owned by Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), whose softball-playing wife, Kathryn (Selma Blair) just ditched him for a female shortstop.
Bradley achieves comfort in the slobbery embrace of a dog also named Bradley and, incidentally, the lithe arms of real-estate agent Diana (Radha Mitchell), who’s simultaneously engaged in an extramarital affair with the grizzled David (Billy Burke). Chloé and Oscar, in dire need of cash to acquire a home of their own and, subsequently, ditch Oscar’s alcoholic father, the Bat (Fred Ward), consider a compromising proposition. All romantic action is monitored and digested by philosophy professor/Jitters regular Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman), who, along with his wife, Esther (an elegant Jane Alexander), is striving to recover from his estranged son’s heroin overdose while offering his pals the best bits of Kierkegaardian advice he can muster.
Directed by Robert Benton (who won a Best Director Oscar for 1979’s legendary Kramer vs. Kramer), Feast of Love was shot on location in Portland, Ore., and each frame of film is, accordingly, overloaded with deep, Pacific Northwest greens: If the film fails on any level, it’s because of its overly bucolic, idealized landscape, where each interior looks professionally designed, and even the cruddiest part of town seems fairly quaint (when Chloé rides her bicycle to a dodgy Oregon strip to see a psychic about Oscar, the surrounding area looks relatively tame, although, in the novel, Baxter describes the stretch as “the Twilight Zone … these old humping kickass grounds of steel and scrapyards”). And while this is a love story, with all the activities entailed therein, Benton manages to sneak in a bemusing amount of gratuitous nudity (every main female character in the movie—save the grandmotherly Esther—is shot entirely naked at one point or another). Witness classic Hollywood aggrandizing: Wipe away the dirty parts, squeeze in as many boobs as possible.
Clothed or not, though, the cast turns in steady performances: Selma Blair only enjoys a tiny slice of screen time, but her depiction of a woman abruptly noticing a new way to love is riveting. As Harry Stevenson, Freeman assumes the standard professorial stance—sheepish, wizened and weary—but while the role may seem archetypal, Freeman is so convincingly sagacious onscreen that it’s impossible not to empathize (and feel vaguely envious) when Chloé asks Harry and Esther to unofficially adopt her and Oscar. Most folks will understand Chloé’s desire to camp out in the Stevensons’ basement, curling into an afghan, reading old hardback books, accepting hot mugs of tea from Esther, nodding at Harry’s sage advice—doled out, always, while he peers gently over his spectacles, folds his newspaper, wears a sweater.
Adapted for screen by Allison Burnett (who, unfortunately, also penned the atrocious Autumn in New York), the screenplay thwarts the novel on a handful of plot points—most notably, the film is narrated by professor Stevenson, not Charlie Baxter (and, unlike the book, the narrative perspective never shifts), it takes place in Portland rather than Ann Arbor, Mich., and the ultimate providence of Aaron, Harry and Esther’s son, is left unambiguous here. Still, the film manages to capture both the evocative earnestness of Baxter’s prose and his vital, Shakespearean sense of love’s frivolity, whimsy and, above all, indispensability. (Thematically, there’s plenty of overlap with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.) Despite a few wretched revelations, Feast of Love is hopeful, convinced of love’s transformative powers, and optimistic for its characters’ futures. For both Benton and Baxter, love is as redemptive as it is intense; for the men and women of Feast of Love, there is no such thing as benign, non-catastrophic passion. Whether it’s Chloé and Oscar’s potent, all-consuming union, Harry and Esther’s tender lifelong partnership, or Diana and David’s abusive, forbidden episodes, love is inevitable and paramount—it changes people, it cannot be controlled or predicted, it seeps into every single thing we do and say. As Bradley concludes: “Love is the only meaning there is in this crazy dream.”