Good premise falls flat in ‘Face of Love’ 

click to enlarge The Face of Love
  • Performances by Ed Harris and Annette Bening are the best thing about “The Face of Love.”
Inspired by “Vertigo,” but tepid, “The Face of Love” is worthy primarily as a showcase for top-notch actors. What might have been a complicated romance involving a troubled but deserving widow, or a compelling psychodrama about the effects of grief, gets mired in a gimmicky doppelganger story in writer-director Arie Posin’s sophomore feature.

Posin (“Chumscrubber”) combines a Hitchcockian plot with an original story featuring late-middle-agers seeking love in this striving but shaky hybrid.

The setting is contemporary Los Angeles, where swimming pools turn the landscape blue and home designs are more captivating than human dynamics.

Nikki (Annette Bening), a 50-something interior designer, loses her husband of 30 years, Garrett (Ed Harris), when he drowns in the surf during their Mexico vacation.

Still grieving five years later, she sees a man at a museum who looks exactly like Garrett. Some research (and a bit of stalking) reveal that he’s an art instructor named Tom (also Ed Harris).

Nikki traces Tom to his workplace and persuades him to give her private painting lessons at her gorgeous home. The two fall in love.

Deception and delusion darken the bliss, however, as Nikki tries to turn Tom into her beloved Garrett. She takes Tom to sites she frequented with her husband, including, at climax time, the Mexican beach where Garrett died.

When old acquaintances mistake Tom for Garrett, she doesn’t correct them.

She won’t let Tom meet her friend Roger (Robin Williams) and her daughter, Summer (Jess Weixler). Both would be shaken by the uncanny resemblance and surely question her sanity. Particularly problematic: Nikki doesn’t tell Tom that he looks like Garrett and that Garrett is dead — truisms that are becoming increasingly creepy.

Bening does an exquisite job of creating a nuanced, complex portrait of a woman struggling with loss, sinking into madness, and falling in love in ways both delightful and eerie. Her scenes with Harris, also excellent, shine.

But the movie traps the pair in a ridiculous story. The doppelganger device, as demonstrated by masters such as Alfred Hitchcock, Krzysztof Kieslowski, David Cronenberg, David Lynch and Mark Twain, can convey obsession and psychic connection. But, presented dead-seriously and shallowly by Posin and co-writer Matthew McDuffie, it’s impossible to buy.

Meanwhile, the overall presentation is too superficial and tame to render the film a psycho-thriller with necrophiliac tinges or a wry portrait of grief at work, a la Francois Ozon’s “Under the Sand.”

Inadequate character development also proves frustrating. How can one cast Williams as a widowed neighbor who adores the main character and give him nothing interesting to do? Amy Brenneman, as Tom’s likable ex-wife, is another example of a promising ingredient that doesn’t come to life.


The Face of Love

Starring Annette Bening, Ed Harris, Robin Williams, Jess Weixler

Written by Arie Posin, Matthew McDuffie

Directed by Arie Posin

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour, 32 minutes

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Anita Katz

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