Based on a real-life experience involving his mother, the second film from Arie Posin (The Chumscrubber), The Face of Love, examines how a widow (Annette Bening) is affected when she runs into a man who greatly resembles her late husband (both played by Ed Harris). The movie has the chance to be an exciting investigation into emotional manipulation, but instead becomes more interested in the minutiae of a fantasy scenario.
We all deal with personal tragedy in different ways. For example, I tend to tamp down any emotional response to a stimulus, choosing instead to cover such reaction up with feigned apathy (thanks for reading the transcripts of my therapy sessions, by the way). In my defense however, most of my personal tragedies involve a bad improv set or traffic (I have led a very privileged life). Bening’s Nikki has not been so lucky; five years after the death of her husband Garrett she is still mourning the loss. One day, while visiting the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA, where tonight’s premiere just happened to be held), Nikki encounters an (almost) exact duplicate of her husband, Harris’ Tom. Nikki spends the rest of the movie manufacturing a relationship between Tom and herself, in a effort to recapture the love that she lost.
The way Nikki treats Tom is pretty reprehensible, but Bening plays the character’s emotional devastation so well that it becomes a forgivable sin. At first. As the film progresses, her machinations become more overt, but the narrative won’t allow for the reveal, presumably saving it for a cathartic release near the end of the feature. But Posin (who also co-wrote the script with Matthew McDuffie) delays the inevitable for so long that when it finally comes it feels more like a deflation than a release.
There is a really fascinating tale of psychological trauma somewhere in the cloudy story, and Bening and Harris both do noble work to try to bring it out, but ultimately the script under-serves the promise of the premise. Nikki is aware of the pain her selfish actions could cause Tom, but this never really gets addressed. Ever. What’s more, the movie just kind of ends, without wrapping up any kind of emotional arc, except in the most rudimentary and superficial way.
The script is not the only problem (though there are some unintentionally laughable lines in there). The score is distracting and surprisingly deaf to the tone of the film. Every ten minutes there is a motif that seems to belong in a more cerebral thriller, making it all the more disappointing that the movie is not taking a more analytic approach to Nikki’s loss of emotional control.
There are glimpses of good throughout the picture; aside from the intriguing premise Posin composes some really well-considered shots that contrast Nikki’s duality with the literal doppelgänger she has discovered for her husband. Posin is clearly talented, but perhaps The Face of Love was just a little too personal to be effective; the movie was inspired by Posin’s mother’s chance encounter with her own late husband’s lookalike. It is the kind of fairy tale that could yield beautiful art, but that magic is lost in Posin’s fantastic expansion of the story. What is left over is a mostly-charmless melodrama, which is a tragedy no one needs to experience.