Director Robert Benton, best known for tackling the tempestuous topic of divorce in Kramer vs. Kramer, returned to the screen perhaps older and richer in his storytelling craft but no wiser when it comes to fathoming those complicated matters of the heart, with Feast of Love. The particular pleasures of this film and its variously intertwined slices of life in a deceptively serene, panoramic Oregon town, are that Benton proposes few quick fix answers to the complexities of human interaction, simply the emotionally stimulating questions and accompanying lyrical mysteries.
Adapted from a novel by Allison Burnett, Feast Of Love unfolds around an observant and introspective older professor, Harry (Morgan Freeman), who seems to know mostly everyone in town and regularly dispenses advice to its depressed and agitated inhabitants. Harry has his own personal grief to deal with as well as he delays returning to work, the death of his only child Aaron from a drug overdose. In a sense, extending himself as a caring and concerned listener to others confronting their own individual agony, helps Harry progressively grope towards a genuine reason for living, that for him resides in a renewed human connection to those around him.
Harry’s own story is in fact the most compelling of all, even as several relationships in the narrative resolve themselves just a bit too patly to reflect real life. One story thread, involving Greg Kinnear as a stressed out coffee shop owner whose much younger wife leaves him abruptly for a lesbian relationship, is bracingly situated between comical weirdness and palpable emotional pain. Other characters like an abusive alcoholic father (Fred Ward) come off as mere stock villains. And another vignette unraveling around adultery where the hard-bitten other woman (Radha Mitchell) accidentally reveals to the jilted wife the affair because she’s wearing her husband’s shirt that’s missing a telltale button, is just too contrived to matter.
Feast of Love is salvaged from a tendency towards self-indulgent sentimentality and overwrought, far too self-conscious plotting, by a graceful literary elegance and sensitively shaped, meditative flow. A feast for the mind and soul.
DVD Features: Audio Commentary, Director Robert Benton: Featurettes: What Fools These Mortals Be; A Merry Feast; The Players. ‘Honestly,’ performed by The Cary Brothers.