[Screen It]

(2007) (Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear) (R)

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Dramedy: Various people try to contend with the various curveballs that life and especially love and relationships throw their way.
Harry Scott (MORGAN FREEMAN) is a professor who, due to a family tragedy, is on an extended leave of absence from the university where he works. That worries his wife, Esther (JANE ALEXANDER), but Harry finds solace spending time with his friend Bradley Thomas (GREG KINNEAR) who runs a local coffee shop.

Bradley is married to Kathryn (SELMA BLAIR), but her recent lesbian fling with Jenny (STANA KATIC) means the end of their marriage. His coffee shop employee, former addict Oscar (TOBY HEMINGWAY), has better luck with his relationship with new girlfriend and coworker, Chloe (ALEXA DAVALOS), something he can't say about his alcoholic father, Bat (FRED WARD), who doesn't like Chloe.

Meanwhile, Bradley ends up falling for real estate agent Diana (RADHA MITCHELL), unaware that she's still having an affair with married man David (BILLY BURKE). As Harry observes all of those relationships, he must contend with his own as well as the effect the familial loss still has on him.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
While it isn't some sort of mandatory command, you simply have to love love. After all, of the various human emotions, few if any can fulfill one's heart and soul as much as it does, while also possessing the ability to jab a dagger into the former and/or suck out the entire contents of the latter.

Artists throughout the ages have noted that dual characteristic, and thus the preponderance of plays, novels, songs, TV shows, and movies about the vicissitudes of that crazy little thing called love. Joining the mix now is Morgan Freeman or, to be more accurate, the character he plays in "Feast of Love."

Harry Scott is a professor on an extended leave of absence, and an acute observer of human nature, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart. At the beginning of this adaptation of Charles Baxter's novel of the same name, he narrates that the Greek gods were bored, and thus invented humans. Still bored with that, they then invented love, but having experienced that themselves, they then invented laughter so that they could stand the aftermath of their earlier invention.

Beyond the fact that someone has finally taken advantage of Freeman's terrific voice and used him as a voice-over narrator (insert heaping dose of sarcasm since he has an apparent lock on all such work in Hollywood), that little bit of observational wisdom is supposed to instill in us the fact that humor's going to mix into the dramatic proceedings of love that we're about to witness.

Considering that director Robert Benton helmed "Kramer vs. Kramer," one might think we're in store for another terrific examination of human relationships, but then one remembers he also recently directed "The Human Stain," a decidedly less successful attempt at doing the same.

The result isn't much more than a glossy, high profile soap opera, replete with lovers of all types (straight, gay, old, young, interracial, faithful, adulterous, etc.) who try to find or hold onto love, only to have fate, chance, and/or other characters pull the proverbial rug out from beneath them.

Freeman's character, alongside Jane Alexander as his longtime wife, hold down the straight, old, interracial, and faithful angle. Yet, their love in a paternal sense has been shattered by fate. As a result, Harry hangs out with his best friend (Greg Kinnear) at the latter's coffee shop.

Few do the sad sack thing better than Kinnear, and his character has good reason as his wife (Selma Blair) has gone over to the love that dare not speak its name (thanks in part to his unwise gift of a pooch to his dog-hating beloved, but also a certain, fetching softball player who puts the moves on Mrs. Thomas). Meanwhile, his new love (Radha Mitchell) can't quite wash that adulterous lover (Billy Burke) out of her hair.

Then there's Bradley's employee (Toby Hemingway), a former drug addict who's fallen for a pretty customer (Alexa Davalos) who's come in looking for a job. Obviously having never seen a movie where the same occurs, she unwisely visits a fortuneteller who looks a bit distressed by what the cards, tea leaves, and crystal ball foretell.

Thus, the affairs of the heart games begin, with both good Cupid and evil Cupid doing their best to work their powers over the various characters' hearts. While Benton thankfully doesn't take the easy way out via classic love songs ("Love will keep us together" vs. "I'll never fall in love again," etc.), the results aren't always satisfying.

That is, at least for discerning viewers who might have a problem being engaged by scribe Allison Burnett's take on Baxter's story. Fans of standard-issue soap operas, on the other hand, might enjoy the proceedings, complete with multiple characters and melodramatic storylines, stilted dialogue, and trite observations of all aspects of love.

While the performances keep this flick from being the equivalent of nails down the chalkboard, there really isn't any reason to fall for "Feast of Love," all of which will make walking out or turning it off a painless and guilt-free response. The film rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 23, 2007 / Posted September 28, 2007

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