"Feast of Love': Where's the beef? 

Robert Benton's "Feast of Love" invites us to a communion of various and assorted intimacies. The attendees are starved for affection, but due to an undefined but common ailment, find themselves incapable of taking nourishment.

The venerable Benton, who long ago earned the right to be referred to as such, experienced early success, scripting the classic "Bonnie and Clyde".

The depression era adventure recalls the exploits of the Barrow gang, bank robbers, but most significantly a populist traveling act of vile and open contempt for the status quo.

The movie’s violent ending, still misunderstood and for which it is remembered, was not gratuitous. The slow motion machine-gunning of the ambushed couple, symbolized the deep loathing for the outlaws held by the powers that be.

They suffered this end not for breaking the law, but for mocking it.

Released in 1967, well heeled critics and studio heads initially missed its resonance with the younger movie going population, grown cynical and weary of government.

The movie opened and closed and reopened in the blink of the same eyes which grew wide at the successful box office and ten Oscar nominations.

Benton’s writing often displays if not in subject, through tone, an uncanny grasp of prevailing sentiments. His trademark insight and rich characters, rare in wide release offerings, lies at the heart of "Feast of Love."

A coffee shop in Portland, Oregon serves as home base for the folks we meet in this story of contemporary American life told so simply it's easy to miss.

These good and subdued folks of the Northwest take life's inevitable insults stoically, with the grace of a Greek philosopher.

This does not contradict that just below the surface, brewing like the java that keeps the conversations alive in this non-Starbucks establishment, lay anxieties, absent a vent.

Holding court among the lattes and plain drips, the resident and type-cast wise man, Morgan Freeman as college professor Harry Stevenson freely gives consultations. Just having who has recently lost his only son, the academic has taken a sabbatical.

Professor Stevenson has insight into everyone but himself.

At home, managing her grief when not attending to his, Jane Alexander as his wife, Esther, shows unconditional caring and patience.

Alexander, radiant and beautiful at 67 in this role of quiet tolerance, is easily as breathtaking as peers 40 years her junior.

Stevenson’s protégé and comrade in this practice of quiet, rational reflection is the shop’s owner, Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear).

Brad loves his wife with whom he apparently shares a congenial low-key relationship--perhaps a bit too low-key.

In display of that deceptive local manner, she explodes, leaves, and moves in with a woman she recently met.

Bradley, through this breakup, and then another, appears more bewildered by what to a normal person would be significantly crippling, if not totally devastating.

Included in this "Feast" is the prior relationship of Bradley’s first post-marital girlfriend, Diana (Radha Mitchell)—an ongoing affair with a married man who refused to leave his wife. Bradley and Diana, both on the rebound, traveling at the speed of rejection on trajectories of insecurity and loneliness, lock to each other like molecules seeking any reasonable attachment.

Rounding out the cavalcade of couplings are two twenty-somethings, employees (baristas if you live in the Northwest) who work at the shop. Trying to crawl out of the deep hole life has dug for them, they nonetheless contribute to the community. Unfortunately nobody notices.

Like some other Benton tales, "Feast" imparts its message through several characters at the expense of a centralized sympathetic protagonist hook.

The work leverages a bit of sentimentality, but certainly does not swim in it.

Speaking softy, with dignity, it doesn't cater to anybody and speaks to everyone. The pithy content is there, without the requisite dynamics to carry it to today’s audiences.

The bottom line is while this is a nice piece of work; it may not last long enough in theaters for many people to see it.

Grade: B-

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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