Movie review: The Face Of Love is a Nicholas Sparks romance for seniors

Movie still from The Face Of Love. -- PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS
Movie still from The Face Of Love. -- PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

THE FACE OF LOVE (PG)

92 minutes/Opens on Thursday/2 stars

The story: After interior designer Nikki (Annette Bening) loses her husband Garrett in an accident, she runs into Tom (Ed Harris), a painter who looks exactly like Garrett. She is unable to control herself and engineers a meeting that soon blossoms into a relationship. Her neighbour Roger (Robin Williams) looks on with concern.

This must be the season for films about people with identity crises. Opening at the same time as the doppelganger thriller Enemy is this work, about a woman who falls in love with a man who is the spitting image of her dead husband.

Like Enemy, this work takes the idea of identity as a fluid substance, made of both the physical and the mental, with a transcendent third essence, one that most closely correlates to our notions of a soul.

Enemy also views this soul-identity as a sinister construct, as much the result of a conspiracy of other minds as it is a thing in itself. This film has roughly the same idea, but projects it in the form of a romance, with a light dusting of suspense.

That suspense - will the unsuspecting Tom (Harris) find out about his status as substitute Garrett and what will he do about it? - gives a nice forward momentum to the story.

There is a familiarity in story and tone here that recalls films such as The Lucky One (2012), based on a book by the prolific Nicholas Sparks. One might well call this film, cast with an A-list of veterans, a Sparks romance for seniors.

As with all Sparks stories, a lot of time is spent looking through the eyes of the lonely female protagonist, here very ably played by four-time Oscar-nominee Bening.

What might have been many mopey minutes becomes something else with Bening - she conveys the pain of loss memorably and palpably and, more importantly, she has the audience dying for her to make contact with Tom.

Comedian Robin Williams has a dramatic turn as neighbour Roger, a man who nurses a crush on Bening. He stands up well next to heavyweights Bening and Harris, but his part feels oddly underwritten. There might be chunks of his backstory on the cutting-room floor.

While handsomely lensed and impeccably set- designed - the whole movie looks like a property advertisement in a magazine for upscale Californian seniors - up-and-coming director Arie Posin (working with a script he co-wrote) never manages to come up with anything interesting to say about the act of reducing a man into an object because of his physical appearance.

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