“Feast of Love” is the “Fear Factor” of romantic dramedies, forcing audiences to endure one false moment of saccharine sentimentality after another until viewers will find themselves wishing they’d opted to stick their head inside a bucket of scorpions. For its talented ensemble cast and notable director (Robert Benton, of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Nobody’s Fool” fame), “Feast of Love” is the kind of movie that gets conveniently omitted from résumés.
This is the sort of movie that’s set in an idyllic college town — Portland, Ore., in this case — where everyone seems to have a job and a home but no one spends all that much time working. How else would they be able to spend their days going for long walks, seeking advice from saintly professor Morgan Freeman (who has, of course, a dark secret), playing softball, or having athletic afternoon trysts?
A friend of mine would sing the “Melrose Place” theme song and insert the phrase “pretty white people with problems,” which pretty much describes “Feast of Love.” Morgan Freeman is the one person of color present, but in Hollywood movies there always has to be one to give wise advice to the white hero — it’s the same thankless role Alicia Keys recently filled for protagonist Scarlett Johansson in “The Nanny Diaries.”
The whitest person with problems is coffee-shop owner Greg Kinnear, who’s having a bad streak of luck with women — one wife (Selma Blair) leaves him for another woman, while another one (Radha Mitchell) can’t quite break up with her married-to-someone-else boyfriend. So we get lots of cute-pout from Kinnear, and lots of scenes where he bends Freeman’s ear with his problems. (Jane Alexander, as Freeman’s wife, gets stuck in some of these woe-is-me sessions, but she’s given almost nothing to do here. Thank heavens she gets to strut her stuff in HBO’s new succès de scandale “Tell Me You Love Me.”)
Meanwhile, Kinnear’s sexy young employees (Toby Hemingway and Alexa Davalos) are falling madly in love and trying to get out from under the thumb of oppressive dad Fred Ward, but their subplot seems like more of an excuse to display their young, supple flesh than anything else. (Giving credit where it’s due, their flesh is exceedingly supple.)
As my mind frequently drifted during “Feast of Love,” I started having flashbacks to the ludicrous NBC show “Providence,” the one set in a Rhode Island where the ground is always covered in golden leaves, everyone is Caucasian and crazily photogenic, and the only person not smiling all the time was the chain-smoking ghost of the perfectly coiffed protagonist’s mother. I was also reminded of film critic Matt Zoller Seitz’s “Max Cady Rule,” which asks the question, “Would this movie be better if Max Cady (Robert De Niro’s unhinged ex-con in ‘Cape Fear’) showed up and started terrorizing everyone?” By the time Kinnear pours a latté for a rain-soaked Mitchell, I was praying for Max’s arrival.