“The Face of Love”: Annette Bening’s Face of Grief

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I am astonished by harsh reviews of The Face of Love (2014). Directed by Arie Posin, I found this film extremely refreshing, psychologically thrilling, and hauntingly beautiful. Plus, it is always a treat to see talented, older actors shining in lead roles.

Five years after her beloved husband’s death, Nikki, (played by the talented Annette Bening) decides she is finally ready to visit one of her and Garrett’s old favourite spots: the local museum. Once there, she encounters a man who looks almost identical to her late husband Garrett (both roles played by a charming 63-year-old Ed Harris). In this scene, Bening portrays the intense flurry of emotions exquisitely: excitement, terror, confusion, disbelief, adrenalin, and love. She frantically follows this familiar stranger, by foot and car, but he slips away. Later, when Nikki tells her fellow widowed neighbor, Roger (Robin Williams) about her electric encounter, she says it was nice to feel alive again. Still, she assures Roger that she doesn’t want to see this Garrett look-alike again, obviously, because that would just be creepy…

Soon after, Nikki becomes obsessed. She must see him again. Nikki visits the museum daily, and sits on the bench where she saw him sit. Everyday she waits and waits with no luck. Finally Nikki figures out a way to track him down. It turns out Garrett’s doppelganger (Tom) is an art professor at one of the nearby colleges. Nikki goes to him, and convinces him to give her private painting lessons; their relationship escalates quickly. Tom says he loves the way Nikki looks at him. He’s never felt this kind of love, but Nikki doesn’t even see him, she sees Garrett. She begins to try to recreate her marriage in their relationship. All the while Nikki is keeping the secret of her husband’s death locked up with all of the family photographs. She is also hiding her new relationship from her twenty-something year-old daughter, Summer (Jess Weixler), and from adoring Roger. It’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out the truth.

Although some of the storyline is a little predictable, Nikki’s character is not. Grief affects her deeply. We never quite know what she is going to do or say next, and it’s what keeps the story exciting. The acting is superb. The close-ups of Annette Bening’s expressive face and eyes are always placed thoughtfully and induce chills.

The whole movie is layered with texture, colour, and striking cinematography. It is art exploding with art: elaborate sets, photographs, breath-taking paintings, and dramatic instrumental music that keeps your heart racing and tears welling. It is certainly not a feel-good romantic comedy. The storyline is disturbing and tragic, but there are also moments of sweet, innocent silliness and endearing romance.

The Face of Love opens April 18, 2014 in Vancouver so if you decide to check it out at your local theatre, try to remember to pack tissues because it really is a tearjerker!