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The Face of Love

There’s a reason why top actors are so well paid: because they can connect an audience to a film even when its primary material, the script, is second rate or shoddy. You could hardly ask for a better example than The Face of Love, in which a half-baked idea with delusions of Hitchcockery is fleshed out by the efforts of stars Annette Bening and Ed Harris. Without them, this would have been lucky to get an overnight slot on the Lifetime or Hallmark Channels; with them, it’s an engaging if ultimately frustrating drama.

(Ironically, it’s a low-budget film for which the stars were not well paid at all, but I stick to my point.)

Bening stars as Nikki, a Los Angeles “house stager” who has been lonely and depressed since the drowning death of her husband while they were celebrating their 30th anniversary in Mexico. She maintains her emotional level with support from her relationship-challenged daughter (Jess Weixler) and torch-bearing neighbor (Robin Williams in an underwritten role).

She perks up when she spots a man at an art gallery who looks just like her late husband. Both are played by Ed Harris, bedecked in the flashback scenes in an unflattering makeup to differentiate him from the character we’ll be seeing more of. “It was nice,” she tells a friend. “It felt like being alive again.”

Wanting more of that feeling she tracks him down to the local college where he teaches art and, long story short, she and Tom become lovers. Thing is, she doesn’t tell him that he’s a ringer for the love of her life.

That’s a fine first act, but from there on writers Matthew McDuffie and Arie Posin (who also directed) squander what they have. Bening does an excellent job of charting Nikki’s gradual slide into self-delusion (and Harris is equally good as a man coming out of his shell by unexpected love). But we know so little of the dead husband that we can’t study the differences and become involved with Nikki’s navigation of them. Comparisons to Hitchcock’s Vertigo are solicited but wholly undeserved as we never get into Nikki’s head. The denouement goes where it has to before wrapping things up with a most odd attempt to leave us emotionally upbeat.

It’s worth seeing if you’re a fan of the stars, but it’s likely to leave you wishing they were getting better roles these days.

Watch the trailer for The Face of Love

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