What the hell, if you’re going to ape what many think ranks among the greatest movies ever made, then go for it. What’s with a namby-pamby, tentative drama when what you should aim for is a whopper of a sexual-psychological thriller?
I’m speaking of Alfred Hitchcock’s great “Vertigo” but unfortunately in the context of a prosaic romantic drama by Arie Posin called “The Face of Love.”
These two are similar story about necrophilia, meaning a distraught person trying to raise from the dead a loved one through another human being. Hitchcock’s story is about as twisted and kinky as you can get while Posin’s is pedestrian and prodding, taking the subject ever-so-seriously and mostly ignoring the craziness of such a situation.
Each movie has a surviving lover stalk a “double,” mostly through art museums and on city streets with the newer film taking the correct approach that such a thing can potentially lead to a serious traffic accident. But the similarities are there and Posin doesn’t try to fool anyone since he throws a “Vertigo” poster into a random shot.
Posin, who wrote the script with Matthew McDuffie, has no sensibility for this kind of thing though. Instead he drags things into a geriatric melodrama based, he says, on his mother”s chance encounter several years ago with a dead ringer for her late husband while walking to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
While we’re on this subject, what’s with all these current movies about doubles? They’re everywhere!
Next week no less, Denis Villeneuve’s “Enemy” features Jake Gyllenhaal confronting Jake Gyllenhaal in a psycho-sexual thriller about a man who comes face to face with himself. Soon enough in Richard Ayoade’s “The Double,” a man will meet his exact physical double — and his opposite.
Oh sure, the double is a common theme in literature from Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer” to Daphne du Maurier’s “The Scapegoat.” To say nothing of Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper.” But why now? Let social scientists figure that one out!
At least “The Face of Love.” is doomed to slip into deserved obscurity.
Too bad though, for the idea was worth exploring. And how did Posin attract that cast? Whoops, I know. Any role for aging actors looks inviting. That’s how bad agism is in Hollywood.
So Annette Bening, a widow still grieving for her husband, Ed Harris, five years after his demise in a misadventure in the Baja, Mexico surf, revisits one of their own haunts, none other than LACMA. There she sees his exact double (yes, Ed Harris) walking towards her and then … past her.
In a more interesting movie, say out of “The Twilight Zone” or “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” or anything willing to play with the impossible or inexplicable, this would be intriguing. But with no explanation whatsoever, in this movie the two guys are just identical and, no, not fraternal twins. It just happens.
So Bening pursues Harris romantically to the consternation of her jealous male neighbor in Venice, California. Harris falls for her. Quoth he: “I could take a bath in how you look at me.”
That’s a powerful line that goes unexplored. Although complications do ensue involving that neighbor — played by Robin Williams, who can suggest such pain that your heart goes out to him rather than either lover — and her daughter (Jess Weixler). But these complications lead neither to farce nor drama but rather to tedium.
Blame none of the actors. Bening is one of our great screen and stage treasures. Yet she is cut adrift here with little foundation for her sorrow or solace.
Harris plays the dead husband (in flashbacks) with false teeth and the energy of a teenager to differentiate himself from Ed Harris #2. But the movie makes him into an interested observer, clueless about his role in Bening’s melodrama until it’s too late.
More interesting by far is the setting, an L.A. seen through the eyes of artists and people wealthy enough to own buildings by amazing architects or hang paintings by cool artists — and LACMA itself (where the LA premiere took place this week.)
So “The Face of Love” is a tremendous recruiting campaign for LACMA but otherwise a damn poor movie.
Opens: March 7, 2014 (IFC Films)
Production company: Mockingbird Pictures Cast: Annette Bening, Ed Harris, Robin Williams, Amy Brenneman, Jess Weixler
Director: Arie Posin
Screenwriters: Matthew McDuffie, Arie Posin
Producers: Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn
Executive producers: Benjamin Castellano-Wood, Theresa Castellano-Wood, Paige Dunham, Maxine P. Lynn, Ruth Mutch, Amy Lynn Quinn, Les Ware, Amy Ware
Director of photography: Antonio Riestra
Production designer: Jeannine Claudia Oppewall
Music: Marcelo Zarvos
Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky
Editor: Matt Maddox
No rating, 92 minutes