I dont like to look back, declares Nikki, though its clear shes never really gotten over the death of her husband.When Nikki returns to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in pursuit of the man she spots whos a live ringer for her dead husband, the main exhibit is entitled In Pursuit of the Past.OK, so co-writer/director Ari Posin is laying it on a bit thick but that in essence is the story behind The Face of Love. Five years after her husband Garrett drowns during a vacation in Mexico, Nikki, unaware of how deeply she is still in mourning, finds herself drawn to an artist named Tom, whose resemblance to her husband is downright spooky.
Its a story thats not nearly as creepy as Obsession (1976), in which a man grieving the death of his wife and daughter meets a woman many years later who looks exactly like his wife (with disastrous consequences), but it is nonetheless an unsettling one.
Fortunately, Posin has chosen wisely in casting Annette Bening as the widow, whose obsession is going to result in some unpleasant complications and Ed Harris as Tom, an art teacher who falls in love with Nikki in large part because of the adoring way she looks at him. Bening is just so damned good in the role that many of us are likely to set aside our misgivings about the path she is taking, starting with tracking down Tom and hiring him as a private tutor.
As the romance burgeons, we see Nikki experience a range of emotions, from pure joy at reclaiming the love so cruelly taken from her to the stoniness that creeps into her features during the moments when reality confronts her private madness. Its a bravura performance and one draws on our sympathies even if we despise the choices she makes.
Harriss unforced masculinity and piercing gaze work equally well in his portrayal of Tom, a man whose artistic muse is unleashed as a result of his second chance at love but whos intelligent enough to realize that something is not quite right.Theres some good supporting work by the cast, including Robin Williams who plays Nikkis widowed neighbour, Roger. Though Williams plays him as pathetic, his performance feels authentic. Amy Brenneman does some lovely cameo work as Toms ex-wife and Jess Weixlers emotional performance as daughter Summer plays a critical role in a scene where Nikkis fantasy world begins to crumble.
The script by Posin and Matthew McDuffie is well constructed, allowing an unlikely premise to unfold in a way that seems plausible. It also includes revelatory dialogue that allows us to understand Nikkis motivation despite our misgivings. The Face of Love is one of those films that allow for no middle ground. Many are going to find the plot questionable and the protagonists actions deplorable. But for those whove experienced loss and grief that seems irreparable, it is a film that will strike a deep and melancholy chord.
-BRUCE DEMARA, THE TORONTO STAR