Much of the action in Feast of Love - or the chats, the philosophizing, that pass for action - takes place at a cafe called Jitters. This comfy espresso establishment, situated on a sunny street corner in Portland, Ore., is owned by one Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), a guy who isn't so much self-absorbed as he is oblivious.
Early on in this sensitive, intelligent and sorely lacking adaptation of a Charles Baxter novel, Bradley's wife (the sad-eyed Selma Blair) leaves him for another woman. Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman), a wise old coot and Jitters habitue, witnesses the seduction of Bradley's wife by a charming shortstop on her softball team.
Reporting back to his missus (Jane Alexander) about his day's activities, Harry says he spent part of it "watching two women fall in love."
"I'm sorry I missed that," says his wise, loving partner.
"I imagine the husband will be, too," Harry deadpans.
Feast of Love is full of such dry, wry, writerly exchanges. As the trajectories of various Portlanders intersect - a steely, sexy real estate broker (Radha Mitchell), a philandering husband (Billy Burke), a troubled young barrista (Toby Hemingway), a drunk, abusive father (Fred Ward), a fetching flower child (Alexa Davalos) - pithy kernels of prose get sprinkled hither and yon, like chocolate flakes on a cappuccino.
But take the ripostes and repartee, the "absence of disqualifiers is a rare and beautiful thing" remarks - take all that away and what's left is the stuff of a season's worth of plot-worn soaps.
A few minutes with this character and his or her dilemmas, a few minutes with that character and his or her woes, a few minutes with the next and his or her illicit encounters, and so it goes, punctuated by the familiar rituals of a wedding, a funeral, a backyard barbecue - and pit stops at Jitters, for shots of caffeine. Kinnear's Bradley wears his naivete, and his anguish, on his sleeve, while Freeman, as a writer and teacher whose heart has been broken by a crushing loss, moves through the movie with saintly acumen. Blair, Davalos and Mitchell are all alarmingly pretty, and so, for that matter, is Hemingway - playing a tattooed hipster with a scary legacy to bear.
Directed by Robert Benton with an economy that comes by experience, from a screenplay credited to Allison Burnett, Feast of Love has a quasi-hip soundtrack (Travis, Jeff Buckley, that unstoppable Once theme by Glen Hansard) and a cast that elevates things just by having the actors walk into frame. But as a meditation on the vicissitudes of love, on the need for people to connect, and the struggles that come by both making and missing those connections, the movie is wading-pool deep.
Feast of Love **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Robert Benton, based on the novel by Charles Baxter. With Morgan Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Radha Mitchell, Selma Blair, Alexa Davalos. Distributed by MGM Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Steven Rea