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Don’t Go in the Water!

You’ll get caught in The Face of Love’s undertow, and it will kill you

March 25, 2014, 12:00 am

Now that there are two movies playing simultaneously that rely on doppelgangers to fuel the plot, you have a choice: The masterfully eerie Enemy, Denis Villeneuve’s creepy rumination on the nature of self that doesn’t make much sense, or Arie Posin’s The Face of Love, a jumbled collection of story threads fighting for their lives in a movie that doesn’t make much sense.

The difference between the two—other than one being an existential thriller and the other a quasi love story—is that Enemy knows what it’s doing and The Face of Love does not. The Face of Love wants to be an homage to, among other things, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. In fact, it’s so Vertigo-inspired that, at times, the score mimics Bernard Hermann’s for the Hitchcock classic.

The Face of Love also wants to be a romance, a story about grieving (but not really), and a comedy, and all in 90 minutes. Mostly it’s just a mess.

Nikki (Annette Bening) and Garrett (Ed Harris) are happily married empty nesters, on vacation in Mexico. He has a little too much to drink and smokes a little weed and decides, against the resort’s suggestion, to go night swimming when there’s a strong riptide. Naturally, he ends up dead, looking beautiful and not bloated, on the shore.

Five years later, Nikki has become a home stager and closet recluse, occasionally having lunch with her neighbor Roger (Robin Williams), but still seeing Garrett wherever she goes. And then she does see him—or a perfect facsimile—at a museum one afternoon.

Nikki becomes obsessed, staking out the place to the point that the grounds crew knows her, and finally accidentally-purposely bumps into him. And then it’s love, or like, or obsession, or something. Director and co-writer Posin isn’t quite sure.

For example, is Tom (Ed Harris as the dead husband lookalike) the nicest guy on the planet? He doesn’t seem to mind being called Garrett, but it’s also incredibly convenient to the plot that he doesn’t mind. Plus, the explanation for how a guy who looks like Ed Harris, and is thoughtful and sweet, remains single for a decade following his divorce is absurd.

Nikki’s singleness makes sense—it’s by choice. Plus, she’s a little cuckoo, as her interactions with friends and family indicate when her new relationship commences.

Whereas Vertigo makes clear James Stewart’s motivations—and I really wish I didn’t have to compare these two movies because that, in itself, is absurd—Posin can’t figure out what to do with her. Is she losing her mind? Is she grieving? Is she driven by existential torment? Hard to say when the screenwriter doesn’t know. There’s also a twisted sense of internal logic at work if it’s ultimately no big deal that Nikki has been keeping a big secret from Tom but the secret he keeps from her—a big ‘un—is treated as a throwaway.

Bening does well enough with the material, but there are moments when the story fails her, and her director fails her, and she flails, much like a person drowning would. At least The Face of Love is short.

Directed by Arie Posin
With Annette Bening, Ed Harris and Robin Williams
CCA Cinematheque
90 min.


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