Grief is an emotion that shouldn't be trifled with, but the very nature of yearning for someone who is not coming back is ripe for all manner of "what if?" scenarios in literature.
Handled well, such tales can be sensitive and touching, drawing the viewer into empathy with the protagonist. Sadly, The Face of Love wastes the opportunity and winds up as trite as its title.
The idea of "replacing" a loved one may be anathema to many, while others may pursue all efforts to move on. Five years after Nikki (Annette Bening) loses the love of her life, she meets a man who bears a striking resemblance to her dearly departed. Compelled to rekindle the feeling she has been so desperately missing, Nikki does the dramatically inevitable and embarks on a relationship while withholding from him the true impetus behind her attraction.
This is only the second feature from writer-director Arie Posin, and he was fortunate to secure a strong cast, despite what turns out to be a fairly laboured script. This is a shame as it's a potentially interesting concept - connection is often in the eye of the beholder, and Bening works typically hard, using every muscle in her face to convey silent sadness or loved-up joy as she gazes at Ed Harris's painter Tom (who, coincidentally, shares not just the looks but seemingly the temperament of her husband).
But ultimately Nikki's predicament is the same as in every romantic drama where one person is keeping a secret from the other. All the audience gets out of it is that tight feeling in the stomach knowing that eventually things are going to get awkward.
With a lighter narrative touch, we might have sympathised with the widow, who is torn between prolonging her past or letting it go, but the story's signposting is unsubtle and Nikki's choices clangingly wrong-headed.
Speaking of awkward, so is the casting of Robin Williams (in any film, actually) as Nikki's wistful neighbour, not helped by his clunky delivery of one-note dialogue. Williams' unconvincing performance is almost balanced out by Harris giving it a good shot as the unsuspecting Tom, but overall it's impossible to lose yourself to the tragedy implicit in the premise.
The Face of Love (M)
- Sunday Star Times