Dir. Robert Benton, US 2007. 102 mins.
Feast of Love weaves its way through the frustrated loves of couples in Portland Oregon who don't have much else to do besides reflect on what they have won and lost in romance. Robert Benton's adaptation of Charles Baxter's 2000 novel coats the original with a honeyed sentimentality, without deepening the drama that was already on the page.
Baxter's ardent readers in the US are likely to give the film a try, and the romance promised by the film's trailer and poster may bring in a women's public. Stars in the cast could also give the film a boost, yet Feast of Love will have a struggle gaining any traction outside the US.
All roads in this comic drama pass to and from the bedroom through Jitters Cafe, where proprietor Bradley Smith (Greg Kinnear) and blonde pretty-boy ex-junkie Oscar (Toby Hemingway) brew stimulants for a dysfunctional and quirky clientele, while philosophy professor Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman) is an ever-present Socratic sage who opines on the goings-on. Bradley's wife (Selma Blair) is about to leave him for a woman, Henry grieves the loss of his brilliant son to a drug overdose, and Oscar lusts uncontrollably for young Chloe (Alexa Davalos) when she comes in seeking work. And those are just the regulars at the cafe.
The feast in the title has nothing to do with food, since little is consumed. This feast is the smorgasbord of denial, longing and neurosis that each character brings to the ensemble piece.
Allison Burnett's script shifts Baxter's action from Ann Arbor (Michigan) to drizzly Portland, conflates Baxter's first-person narrative and the character of a Jewish professor in the book into Freeman's Buddha-like guru, and pares down the original's many digressions. Much richness is lost in the process.
Whereas the novel has a rhythm of interior monologues in which characters mull the prospect of sex with other caffeinated souls whom they meet at Jitters, in the film the attracted parties jump right into bed, and then wonder why their relationships aren't satisfying. Freeman is always there the next morning with a Delphic answer - so calm that the coffee he drinks constantly must be decaffeinated - although we see that he's neglecting his own wife (Jane Alexander) back home in their warm wood-paneled home.
The script's jokes and its bitter-sweet pronouncements on love are as soft as the honey-toned light caught by Kramer Morgenthau's camera, with Bradley stumbling in and out of a second marriage to the manipulative local realtor Diana (Radha Mitchell) who, in case you haven't guessed, orders black coffee in Jitters.
Missy Stewart's production design captures much of the Oregonian new-age art de vivre - wine, coffee, gentle wood interiors - yet its main location, the coffee bar, has a jolting bare starkness, like a utilitarian sound-stage stripped down to expedite entries and exits. The cafe as home-substitute is as over-used as any film/tv formula these days (Friends, to give just one example); the twist here is that this cafe is so inhospitable that we understand why the customers don't waste much time on conversation before hitting the sheets.
The cast performs as expected. Freeman is a stoic sage. Kinnear is a bumbling romantic. Jane Alexander has a mature forbearance. Toby Hemingway has the eager radiance of a youth destined for martyrdom. Fred Ward is the odd man out as Oscar's violent alcoholic father Bat. He is a drunk, and hence the nastiest of misfits in this movie about sweet neurotics who do nothing worse than overdose on coffee and then overdose on talking about themselves.
Greenestreet Films (US)
Lakeshore Entertainment (US)
Revelations Entertainment (US)
Lakeshore Entertainment (US)
Allison Burnett (adapted from the novel by Charles Baxter)