Countless films have featured couples who, upon first meeting, are like water and oil. In other words, for one reason or another, they simply do not like each other. But as the story develops, they bond and, at the finale, wedding bells are ringing. This is the storyline found in celluloid romances from decades ago, and this remains the formula today.
Or perhaps the film may feature a romance that is ill-fated. Two people appear to be ideally matched, but outside events keep them apart and their stories occasionally end in tragedy. You can take this all the way back to ROMEO & JULIET and the various screen version of the Shakespeare masterpiece that have been produced across the decades.
The most recent, by the way, is arguably the worst-ever ROMEO & JULIET. It was released last fall and it is a crass, in-your-face version that appears to be made primarily to attract young teenage girls. What might be said for this ROMEO & JULIET is that it is good-looking and the title characters are played by actors who are age-appropriate. But all the characters come off as being collectively shallow, and there is no shading in the storyline. It's almost as if this ROMEO & JULIET is pandering to its intended audience. Its makers seem to be saying: It's too much to challenge young people, to require them to absorb Shakespeare. So let's just give them whatever they want, whatever it is that they will willingly buy-- and quality be damned. With this in mind, it is easy to imagine that, during the film's casting, it might have been suggested that Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus be hired to play the title characters. Lastly, who would have guessed that the screenplay was penned by Julian Fellowes, of DOWNTON ABBEY fame?
At the other end of the romantic spectrum is a film that features characters who might be loosely labeled a middle-aged Romeo and Juliet. They met, fell in love, and did not face familial pressure. Instead, they married and have enjoyed three decades-worth of bliss. But what will happen when the inevitable comes? What will happen when one of them suddenly dies? How will the surviving partner go on living? Such is the plight of one of the characters in the newly-released THE FACE OF LOVE.
Nikki, who is played by Annette Bening, has lived a wonderful life with her soul mate, but he drowns while vacationing in Mexico. Five years pass and Nikki still mourns her loss, but then she accidentally spies a man who is his exact double. Will she approach him? How will he respond to her? Will this result in a second chance for romance?
Cinematically-speaking, THE FACE OF LOVE has its plusses and flaws. On the positive side, it is heartfelt and absorbing and both Bening and Ed Harris (who plays the lookalike characters) are pleasures to watch. At the same time, however, the plot dynamics are sorely lacking in subtlety and, given all that Nikki experiences during the course of the story, the finale simply is not credible.
But beyond the specifics of its storyline, THE FACE OF LOVE examines one of the harshest realities of life. Even if you are fortunate enough to be blessed with a loving, stress-free long-term relationship, that relationship will not be endless-- and this is one of the harshest, saddest facts of life.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
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