Sometimes great actors can elevate a shaky script. Annette Bening and Ed Harris manage to do just that in "The Face of Love." In this melancholy and overly coincidental love story, the lack of being forthright has its consequences.
Bening plays Nikki, a widow of five years who had the perfect marriage for 30 years. She's close to her grown daughter, Summer (Jess Weixler), and neighbor, Roger (Robin Williams). Aside from them, Nikki remains despondently lonely.
One afternoon at an art museum she spots a man who is a dead ringer for her deceased husband, Garrett (Ed Harris plays both roles). At first she's shocked but, ultimately, becomes so fascinated with him that she follows the mysterious man to a college, at which he's employed. His name is Tom, and he teaches art. Nikki boldly enters his classroom and absurdly asks to enroll. When she subsequently breaks down crying, Tom offers to give her private lessons.
Their attraction becomes mutual but Nikki hides all photos of Garrett and refuses to reveal the initial impetus for their relationship. Tom also harbors a secret from Nikki. Deceit and the anticipation of the reveal keeps this incredulous story alive.
Director/writer Arie Posin ("Chumscrubber") either pays homage or conveniently borrows snippets from Hitchcock's "Vertigo" in "The Face of Love." Look-alike, long-lost loves are observed in an art museum. And one party becomes so obsessed with the other that it begins to border on insanity. As Nikki's grip on reality begins to wane, she slips up in ber bliss and the truth rears its ugly head.
The script suffers periodically. One zinging cringer is when Tom stares into Nikki's eyes and blurts out, "I could take a bath in how you look at me." Please. Even the title of the film seems a bit schmaltzy. But Bening's riveting portrayal of an emotionally confused widow is utterly soul-bearing. And Harris' total immersion into a character who's unconditional love is eventually shattered is brilliant to behold.
At times, "The Face of Love" feels like a soap opera, but the chemistry between Harris and Bening saves it from getting too sudsy. It's also refreshing to watch two pros who prove that they don't have to be wrinkle-free to be immensely attractive.
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