Arie Posin‘s The Face of Love (IFC Films, 3.7) is a mostly mediocre love story. The performances aren’t half bad and at times touch bottom or are good for a chuckle, but the ghastly, on-the-nose script (by Posin and Matthew McDuffe) sucks the oxygen out of the room. The film is basically about how a well-off 50ish widow named Nikki (Annette Bening) poisons a promising relationship with Tom (Ed Harris), a nice, middle-aged artist, by lying her ass off. She’s attracted to Tom because he’s an absolute dead ringer for her deceased husband, Garrett (also played by Harris), who drowned five years ago. But instead of copping to that simple fact, she lies and lies and lies and lies all through the film. The only reason Nikki/Bening gradually opens up is because she’s forced to. Needless to add she’s a total drag to hang with.
Healthy-attitude people with any kind of insight know that every time you tell a lie it’s like squeezing a drop of poison into your soul. Lies usher in neuroses, misery and cancer. I felt as if I was suffering from cancer as I watched Bening shit all over Harris with her bullshit deceptions, and at the same time weaken her relationships with her daughter (Jess Weixler) and her adoring neighbor (Robin Williams) by lying to them also.
I began to moan and lean forward in my seat and exhale and cover my face with my fingers around the halfway point. It was all I could do remain in my seat during the final third.
It’s sad and ridiculous for Bening to try to obscure the fact that she’s attracted to Harris because of the spitting image thing. Why? Because romantic attraction is always about the pushing of some primal button. I had a girlfriend when I was eight years old, and I’ve always liked women who remind me of her…and so what? People always fall for perceptions and aromas and dreams, and then they get to actually know the person they’re attracted to and the relationship works out or it doesn’t.
What would be the harm in Bening saying to Harris, “Look, this is going to sound creepy but it’s real and I just want to be straight. I’m attracted to you because you look a lot like my dead husband, who drowned five years ago. So I’m not in love with ‘the real you’ but who’s in love with the ‘real’ anyone when they first succumb? If you want to hang and date a bit, great. If not, I understand. I wouldn’t blame you. We can laugh about it and roll with it, or we can let it go. Either way I’m cool, and I hope you are.”
After that scene the movie could be about how all of Bening’s friends and co-workers and acquaintances react to the weird similarity and how that gets to be a problem, etc. Or some other complication.
The movie would be so much more believable if Garrett had just resembled Tom rather than being his exact physical clone. Williams’ character says early on that everyone has a double. That’s bullshit. People can strongly resemble others (physically or personality-wise or whatever) but that’s as far as it goes in my experience. If Posin had made Garrett an inch or two taller and given him a beard and perhaps some hair, the appearance of the Ed Harris-y Tom (not tall, no beard, bald) would be semi-believable. Or if Bening had travelled to London and met an ill-mannered, under-employed British musician who looks almost exactly like Garrett…maybe. But to meet the exact double of a dead husband in the same city, only five years later? Too much to swallow.
Tom googles Nikki after they first start to like each other, and he can’t find pictures of her and Garrett? She doesn’t have them on her Facebook page? It would be one thing if this movie was set in the ’70s or ’80s or even the early ’90s, but everything is discoverable today.
Here’s a perverse idea. Bening and Harris make a go of it, and it gradually doesn’t work out because Harris’s Tom is his own person and not a personality clone of Garrett. But guess who eventually relaxes into Harris and then warms up big-time and falls for him, and vice versa? Bening’s 30 year-old daughter (i.e., Weixler). In response to which Bening completely freaks out and goes all Mia Farrow on Harris. And then Williams takes her side as a way of cozying up to her. Harris and Weixler not only stick to their guns but Weixler gets pregnant in Act Three. That‘s a movie I’d like to see and would probably recommend…seriously. Obviously an eccentric, dysfunctional turn of events, but are you going to tell me life doesn’t go like that sometimes?
Speaking of Weixler, there’s an absolutely dreadful scene when she suddenly visits Bening and totally loses her cool when she catches sight of Harris, who of course is the spitting image of her father. It would so much cooler if she held it in and kept her cool and just acted with her eyes, looking at Bening and silently saying to her “are you fucking kidding me?”
There’s another godawful scene when Harris and Bening are vacationing at the exact same Mexican resort where Bening and Garrett used to go together, and Harris happens to notice a snapshot of the two of them, and then he pulls it off the wall and shows it to Bening and she still lies to him. Just dreadful. And then another whacked scene in an art gallery happens at the very end. And then we see Bening doing laps in her pool, beaming at the camera…happy at last.
Harris’s Tom is lied to, shat upon, spat upon, humiliated and treated like a piece of nice-guy meat throughout the whole film. Every scene is about him noticing and then reacting to Bening’s bullshit, and then Bening coming up with more bullshit to cover her tracks. “Leave her, Tom!” I was silently pleading as I sat in my fifth-row seat at LACMA’s movie auditorium. “She’s not worth your time. She doesn’t respect you enough to be straight with you. She’s fucking with you and playing cheap little games so she can flirt with a fantasy of her dead husband being alive again. Walk the fuck out and don’t look back, man. And then go have a beer.”
Bening’s Nikki lives in a really nice crib. Someone has written that passion-wise The Face of Love is more about “design porn” than anything else. I wouldn’t argue with that.