I returned to the Michigan Theatre this evening to catch Annette Bening (who defines selectivity in her screen roles) and Ed Harris (who is a hard working actor and manages to project commitment into every part) in a new film called The Face of Love. It was great to see those two pros working together (had they appeared onscreen together before?) but the film had its pros and cons, and was somewhat overwhelmed by a larger gloss of an ultra contemporary Los Angeles/Southern Pacific Coast setting.
Bening stars as Nikki, an LA-based “house dresser” (or something like that – we only get one scene to see what she does for work…) who has lost her husband of many years (Harris) in an ocean accident during an anniversary trip to Mexico. The film flashes forward several years, and, by chance, Nikki encounters a new man, Tom (also Harris) who, naturally, looks exactly like her late husband. Nikki puts on her sleuthing hat to find more about him, ultimately tracking him down as an art instructor at Occidental College, and the two develop a connection initially as teacher-student that quickly turns to a more romantic vein. However, Nikki choses to conceal the similarity between Tom and her deceased husband, also leading her to conceal the new man’s identity from an inquisitive neighbor (Robin Williams, of all people…) and her 20-something daughter who is in and out of the house and LA area.
I really appreciated this film’s premise, and found that there were flashes of insight both from a psychological standpoint (how long does it take a widow or survivor to move on from loss? do they ever move on?) and a more character-based standpoint (will she tell him the truth? what are these characters doing in their self-contained Los Angeles worlds?)
But then the film missed several opportunities to take the story in a deeper or surprising direction; several reviews note that Tom looks up Nikki on the internet, but somehow fails to come across an obituary for her husband. And she actually drops a hint of the details she is leaving out in an early scene in their budding relationship — but both characters forget to follow up on it, leading to an inevitable confrontation sequence later in the film.
In fact, that sequence near the end of the film takes the characters back to the “scene of the crime/incident” in Mexico (kind of a spoiler but whatever) and at that point the film toyed with becoming a female-led version of Vertigo, with Bening doing her best impression of a more amicable and feminine Jimmy Stewart. I wish that the script had gone one step further (again) with a coda in that sequence, which presented an opportunity to make it all much more fantastical, similar to something like… Vanilla Sky or anything by Pedro Almodovar… but it went for the conventional, and then skipped ahead for an affecting though too rushed resolution to the story.
Clearly this film struck a chord with my thoughts and analysis, probably tied in with my psychology background. And despite the unevenness of the material, Bening and Harris offer committed performances (Bening more so) throughout the film. It sure was weird seeing Robin Williams in a dramatic supporting role (I can’t remember the last time I did) and his character appeared underused, as if he had more scenes but they might have been cut down. The film makes excellent use of a variety of Los Angeles locations but they veer on the edge of a modern design catalog and sometimes distract from the story.
I didn’t write about last week’s viewing of Captain America: The Winter Soldier back at the Quality 16. This film has started the summer movie season (hence my “popcorn season” post title) earlier than ever before, and has been well covered in other outlets as it continues the ongoing saga of the Marvel Universe.
So instead of offering a full review I’ll just note that I especially enjoyed the interplay between Chris Evans as the eponymous captain and Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow. The two of them should clearly set off on their own series of movies rife with international intrigue, hot sexual tension and fearless crime fighting. I’m sure a lot of fans would line right up.