Director Robert Benton, best known for his zeitgeisty, Oscar-hoarding divorce drama Kramer vs. Kramer, has tapped into more than a few current trends in Feast of Love. There are the interlocking mini-stories, à la Crash; different color filters for different scenes (yellow for happy times, blue for sad ones), à la Traffic. And now that dessert bars are all the rage, he's decided to serve up a film feast consisting only of sweets: a smorgasbord of cream puffs and treacle tarts, all topped with a bracing smear of marshmallow fluff.
Based on a novel by then-University of Michigan prof Charles Baxter, the film transposes the setting from an idealized Ann Arbor to an idealized Portland -- a glowing little town where the men play touch football on the grassy lawns of Portland State University, while philosophy professors mingle with coeds in a coffee shop called Jitters.
The café is run by Bradley (Greg Kinnear), an eager fellow who has no luck with the ladies. After his first wife leaves him for another woman (Selma Blair and Stana Katic, respectively, who pop in for an obligatory lesbian sex scene), Bradley immediately gets hitched again to Diana (Radha Mitchell), a real-estate agent who doesn't believe in true love.
Meanwhile, Bradley's two troubled young baristas, Oscar (Toby Hemingway) and Chloe (Alexa Davalos), are falling in mad, mad love. Their feelings for each other never wane -- their certainty is at once adorable and boring -- but they have other troubles to deal with, including semi-poverty (they're so strapped for cash that they make a sex tape) and the ominous presence of Oscar's father (Fred Ward), a leering caricature of a knife-wielding drunk. But two couples do not make an intersecting-storyline movie, so yes -- there's yet another relationship stuffed in here: Morgan Freeman and Jane Alexander play an aging professor and his supportive wife, who are in old-people love, hugging and drinking wine in their creaky-floored Victorian.
At first, Feast seems to lay out an interesting project for itself -- to catalog the look and feel of relationships at different stages in our lives. But for a film that purports to be an epic consideration of Love in Our Time, it's strikingly unthoughtful. In this rosy, cozy world, either you fall for someone in the blink of an eye or you never do.
Freeman, who narrates, is as compelling as always, playing a wry, wise observer (as always). But not even his voice at its most gravelly can save dialogue like this: "Sometimes you don't know you've crossed a line until you're already on the other side."
Kinnear, meanwhile, struggles with the blandness of his character. "Do you think love is a trick, or do you think it's the only meaning there is to this crazy dream?" Bradley asks several women. It's a litmus test: His soul mate is supposed to pick the latter, and by the end of the movie we are too. Instead, the question becomes a metaphor for the one-note sugar high of the film itself.