Here's Looking at You...
Grief over the death of a beloved spouse can be devastating. The Face of Love, a romantic drama co-starring Annette Bening and Ed Harris, explores the depths of that feeling -- while adding a touch of Vertigo, my favorite Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Bening delivers a heartbreaking performance here in the role of a widow who meets her husband’s doppelganger about five years after his passing, and Harris excels as the divorced lookalike who’s in the dark about this resemblance. I’m also impressed by the movie’s exquisite suspense surrounding the developing romance between these two walking wounded and about what will happen when the truth comes out.
When the film opens, we see Nikki (Bening) thinking about past moments with Garrett, her husband of 30 years. It’s obvious she still misses him terribly. Her neighbor Roger (Robin Williams) seems to care about her -- but she just wants to be friends. Then one day when Nikki visits a museum, she sees a man who looks just like Garrett, and from that moment on her obsession with Tom (Harris) takes over her life. She almost becomes a stalker.
After finally meeting Tom and finding out he’s an art teacher, Nikki asks him to tutor her in painting. Where? At her home, of course. During these sessions, Tom finds it difficult to resist Nikki. He likes the way she looks at him -- and she looks at him often! Nikki tries to hide this new relationship from her friends and her daughter (Jess Weixler), who’s away at college. But how long can it remain a secret?
I always enjoy watching Bening bring her characters to life on screen. She makes them seem so real and true. And Nikki is no exception. Bening succeeds in projecting the woman’s compulsion -- along with her understanding of what’s happening -- in a way that evokes our empathy for Nikki despite her irrational behavior. Although blessed with a lovely speaking voice, Bening doesn’t have to say much in The Face of Love. We can tell what Nikki is thinking, and especially feeling, just by paying attention to Bening’s changing facial expressions and body language. Harris also makes us care for Tom and worry about the precarious nature of his situation.
Thanks to director Arie Posin (The Chumscrubber) and cinematographer Antonio Riestra (Mama), the camera lingers on Bening’s expressive face, which draws viewers into her character’s emotional journey. This approach helps us realize Nikki believes that when she’s with Tom, Garrett is still alive. But how fair is that to Tom? Unlike Kim Novak’s character in Vertigo, Tom is not the person he resembles, which makes this story even more poignant to me.
Co-written by Posin and Matthew McDuffie (A Cool Dry Place), The Face of Love emerges as a brave offering among so many cookie-cutter films being released now. Without one car chase or shoot-out or mind-numbing special effect, this movie demonstrates how a well-done character-driven drama can not only deepen our understanding about the power of grief and love but also entertain us at the same time.
Without you in my arms, I feel an emptiness in my soul. I find myself searching the crowds for your face. – Nicholas Sparks, Message in a Bottle
(Released by IFC Films and rated “PG-13”for brief drug references. Available on DVD July 15, 2014.)