Film Review: The Face of Love

Arid drama stars Annette Bening as a widow who encounters her late husband’s double.

Los Angeles never looked better than in Arie Posen's The Face of Love, especially the house belonging to its heroine, Nikki (Annette Bening). It's an intriguingly oblong affair, at once sleekly modernistic and cozy, impeccably decorated and wrapping itself around an elegant matching oblong-shaped pool. I emphasize this house—a dream to live in—mainly because it is the most interesting thing in the film, a wan Vertigo-ish affair in which Nikki, a seriously grieving widow, finds love again in the shape of Tom (Ed Harris), a dead ringer for her late husband Garrett (Harris again).

Unlike James Stewart with Kim Novak in the Hitchcock film, however, there is no need for Nikki to make over Tom to be worthy of her love. He's the perfect, age-appropriate guy, himself mourning a wife who walked out on him, and a talented painter to boot. After the requisite bumpy start, in which Nikki freaks out over being "reunited" with her dead love, their affection steadily grows, abetted by a visit to her and her husband's favorite sushi restaurant, where a groan-inducing Japanese chef clucks over them like a mother hen.

One assumes it is the wish to not appear too creepy which keeps Nikki from telling Tom that she is widowed and he is a doppelgänger for her husband. The truth comes out somewhat in a clumsy scene in which her daughter, Summer (more groans here), unsurely played by Jess Weixler, happens upon them and really freaks out. Mama chooses man over daughter, and goes with him to Mexico for a suddenly fraught, overly dramatic denouement in which all is revealed, followed by a possible drowning that again evokes Vertigo, as well as that other creepy ode to the dead returning for romance, Portrait of Jennie.

What could have made this clanking contraption of a film work would have been charismatically involving performances from its more-than-able leads. But Posen's insecure style of shooting, relying too heavily on close-ups and endless cuts back and forth between their concerned faces, robs the actors of any fluid rhythm or potent connection. Bening works hard, mooning sorrowfully about her gorgeous, empty house and pensively stalking Tom at first, but her portrayal of Nikki is more picturesque than penetrating. A wizened-looking Harris doesn't have all that much to do, and Posen's emphasis on his supposed great, thwarted gift as a painter unfortunately only calls up the popular but, for this critic, very synthetic Pollock. A weirdly waxy Robin Williams has a thankless role as Nikki's neighbor, also with a conveniently dead spouse, who is unrequitedly in love with her. As is so often the case when given a serious role in which his manic energy is tamped down, Williams falls back on merely simpering. Marcelo Zarvos' soupy, swooning music continually attempts to imbue deep emotion into a movie that, for all of its thrashing about, is actually pretty arid.