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Friday, September 28, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

"Feast of Love" is sweet but less filling than the novel

Seattle Times movie critic

A sweet if slight tale of love in its many forms, Robert Benton's "Feast of Love" doesn't quite overcome its biggest obstacle: Compared with the enchanting Charles Baxter novel on which it's based, the movie is just a pleasant shadow.

Set in a pretty, rain-soaked college town (Portland, Ore.; taking over for the book's Ann Arbor location), Allison Burnett's screenplay follows the interwoven lives of several characters. Benton's skill at working with actors is reflected in some fine performances by the ensemble cast. Morgan Freeman and Jane Alexander, showing the young folks how it's done, do some beautiful work as a long-married couple facing heartache. Greg Kinnear does his now-trademark lovable jerk, a man ham-fisted in matters of the heart. Alexa Davalos is winsomely pretty as a young woman in the throes of first love. Radha Mitchell does well with the movie's most challenging role, a woman in love with one man yet marrying another.

"Feast of Love" treats its characters with a gentleness that's very appealing and true to the spirit of the book (in which a benevolent narrator — who shares a name with the author — interviews the characters, encouraging them to tell their stories). But sometimes what seems charmingly magical in fiction comes off as a bit contrived on screen. Love, an elusive sprite, can be hard to pin down; "Feast of Love" at times finds it perfectly (the way Freeman looks at Alexander as if she's a long-cherished gift; the way Davalos lights up like a sunbeam in the presence of her boyfriend) and at times stumbles. (Kinnear's character, a well-meaning but difficult man, feels like a draft of a character; you don't know whether to identify with him or not.)

With its warmhearted ending and soft light, "Feast of Love" is a pleasant way to spend a rainy afternoon, but it doesn't linger in the memory the way Baxter's book does. It's a worthy effort, even as it does fall short; a good meal but hardly a feast.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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