In Godard's Contempt, Michel Piccoli explains the depth of his love for Brigitte Bardot as "totally... tenderly... tragically." The characters in Robert Benton
's autumnal meditation on the meaning of love, Feast of Love, all dive into love with blinders on like Piccoli, drowning in their own respective seas of love.
Bradley (Greg Kinnear
) is an affable, eternally optimistic schlimazel who runs Jitters, a tiny coffee shop in an Oregon college town, a guy that burbles out statements like, "I think love is everything; the only meaning we have to this crazy dream." Bradley is so likeable and easygoing that he is ripe to be trampled upon by the love beast and he is. Twice. First, his wife Kathryn (Selma Blair
) leaves him for another woman. He then falls head over heels in love with cool-drink-of-water real-estate agent Diana (Radha Mitchell
), who ends up marrying Bradley, despite her continuing to engage in carnal relations with David (Billy Burke
). Bradley relates his stretch of news from the lovelorn to his friend Harry (Morgan Freeman
), Harry calmly telling Bradley, "At least this time it's with a guy." Article continues below
Harry, on an extended leave from his position at the local college, is the resident sage, sitting at his table in Jitters, sipping his brew, reading his paper, and dispensing homilies like a Joe in The Time of Your Life -- words of wisdom like "The end is always right there at the beginning" or "Sometimes you don't know if you've crossed a line until you're already on the other side and, of course, by then it's too late." And since Harry is played by Morgan Freeman, Benton offers the by now obligatory Morgan Freeman voice over narration, like Red in The Shawshank Redemption or Eddie in Million Dollar Baby. Clearly, Harry is the soul of this tight-knit community. More than the soul.
For suddenly Oregon is in the land of Fate and the Greek Gods. Harry, with his towering wife (Jane Alexander
) seem to know and to predict the future of every mere mortal in town; on a nightly tour they walk past the suburban homes and click their tongues about the spurned, jilted, and rejected folks asleep in their homes. But it is not just Harry and Esther; the town even has its own oracle --a frumpy fortune-teller with Laurel and Hardy dolls who predicts doom and gloom.
Harry not only consoles Bradley but also the beautiful and innocently young waitstaff at Jitters, Oscar (Toby Hemmingway
) and Chloe (Alexa Devalos
), who, just like Bradley, fall instantly, completely, and unthinkingly in love and are even more doomed that he is.
Robert Benton revels in this mythic roundelay of the magic and mystery (and ultimate extinction) of love, his camera lingering on knowing glances, offhand gestures, and idealized lovemaking, in an attempt to portray the completely illogical abandon that accompanies the head-smacking imbecility of love and desire at first sight. But in concentrating on Harry's wry remarks and passive-aggressive aid, Benton renders this sensual saturnalia as mere background to Harry's distancing eye.
But this where Greg Kinnear comes in. Kinnear's Bradley is the heart of the film. The character could have easily been turned into a joke but with Kinnear in the role Bradley, despite all the tribulations heaped upon him, he becomes the film's tower of strength and its emotional compass. Kinnear's glance conveys a world of love lost and love gained. While Benton laboriously stirs the pot of his New Age emotionalism, Kinnear delivers the goods. When Bradley says, "I'm the happiest man alive," you believe it.