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Actors make the most of The Face of Love

by Mark Burger

There’s much to enjoy in The Face of Love, a well-made and well-made romantic melodrama that never quite peaks and never quite seems to decide exactly what kind of film it is – although it’s interesting throughout.

Annette Bening stars as Nikki, a widow still grieving the loss of her husband Garrett (Ed Harris) during a 30th-anniversary trip to Mexico some years before. One day, however, deja vu strikes hard when she spies Tom (Harris again) in the art gallery she and Garrett used to frequent.

Nikki takes it a step further by approaching him to teach her painting.

Tom, although initially curious about her sudden appearance in his life, agrees – and an inevitable relationship develops between the two, although Nikki refrains from telling Tom anything specific about her earlier marriage. (This will, inevitably, cause problems.)

There’s a slightly eerie quality to the proceedings, vaguely reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock (who of course directed du Maurier’s Rebecca), and the art-museum sequence recalls Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), yet director Arie Posin (who also wrote the screenplay with Matthew McDuffie) tends to hold back from taking it further – despite repeated scenes involving mirrors. As the story so hinges on coincidence, The Face of Love tends (appropriately) toward the illusory and ethereal, but it also tends toward soap-opera.

At this stage of her career, Bening essentially can do no wrong, and it’s truly a pleasure to see Harris play a romantic lead. Audiences well know the intensity and volatility he can bring to his roles, but he’s charming and attractive in an earthy, compassionate role. (He also brings subtle shading to his brief role as Garrett, so that the two characters remain distinctive and different.)

There’s nice work from Amy Brenneman as Tom’s ex-wife, Jess Weixler as Nikki’s unsuspecting daughter, and a brief but welcome bit by veteran Clyde Kusatsu as a chef. Robin Williams, nicely sympathetic, has a few good scenes as Nikki’s widowed neighbor, who harbors a romantic inclination, but he could have had more to do – and he never encounters Harris’ character face-to-face, which is something of a missed opportunity.

The Face of Love is scheduled to open Friday !

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