The premise of “The Face of Love” sounds like some goofy Lifetime movie that should star Meredith Baxter-Birney and Lou Diamond Phillips.
You wouldn’t even need to change the title as the movie features a widow striking up a relationship with a man who looks exactly like her dead husband.
But “The Face of Love” actually manages to pull it off thanks in part to the fact that the widow is played by Annette Bening and the dead husband and his lookalike are played by Ed Harris.
These two seasoned actors bring so much credibility to their performances that what could have easily been a ridiculous melodrama instead becomes a meditation on loss, love, grief, identity, and the complexity of relationships. In short, this movie is way better than it should be.
Bening plays Nikki, a woman whose husband drowns on their 30th anniversary. Five years pass and she seems to be holding it together pretty well as her upper-middle-class lifestyle remains mostly intact.
She puts on a brave face for her adult daughter (Jess Weixler) and her widower neighbor Roger (an understated Robin Williams) but she never seems fully engaged with the world.
Then one day walking through an art museum she sees Tom (Harris) and is understandably flabbergasted at the resemblance to her deceased hubby. At first, she dismisses it as a cosmic anomaly, but she then becomes obsessed, stalking the museum until she sees him again.
Eventually, they meet and begin to date, all the while Nikki hides Tom from those closest to her while never telling Tom the off-putting truth that he is her dead husband’s doppelganger.
While the tension of the discovery of Nikki’s ruse permeates the film, the real drama of the movie comes from watching Nikki reconcile the fantasy of having her husband back with the reality that Tom is an entirely different person. At the same time, Tom is slow to realize that the reason he is drawn to Nikki is just an echo of the depth of her love for her husband.
Director Arie Posin (who co-wrote the movie with Matthew McDuffie) gets credit for playing the movie straight, even when the whole thing predictably falls apart and stumbles across the finish line.
He smartly lets his cast do all the hard work, but also never attempts to elevate the movie in any way which leaves his impact on the film completely neutral.
The real takeaway here is how good Bening and Harris are, especially at an age when Hollywood starts putting actors out to pasture with supporting roles and bit parts.
The subject of adult insecurities is a bit of an untapped cinematic goldmine and with a good number of supremely talented actors-of-a-certain-age with the capability of elevating even quasi-schlocky material, “The Face of Love” should be a lot less of an outlier than it is.
Look, I love “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” as much as the next guy, but movies by adults, for adults deserve a place in the cinematic marketplace as well. The simple fact that the gloriously average “The Face of Love” stands out as much as it does is a testament to that deficiency.
“The Face of Love” is rated PG-13 for brief drug references.