The allure and attraction of a forbidden romance is a timeless fable that people are often fascinated with, as they wish to believe that true love can conquer all. That stimulating process of organically discovering the emotions, truths and motivations behind the person you’re instantly and temptingly drawn to can make people believe they can overcome any obstacle, and truly be together. That’s certainly the case with the two grieving lead characters in the compelling new independent film, ‘The Face of Love,’ which opens on Friday in select New York theaters. The romantic comedy, which was directed by Arie Posin, who co-wrote the script with Matthew McDuffie, effortlessly showcases the extreme lengths people go to in order to find a real connection again, even if they feel they can’t be completely honest about their feelings and motives.
‘The Face of Love’ follows grieving widow Nikki (Annette Bening), who’s still struggling with the death of her beloved husband of 30 years, Garrett (Ed Harris), five years after his passing. At the urging of her daughter, Summer (Jess Weixler), Nikki decides to enjoy her live again, and visits LACMA, the local art museum, a treasured place she used to enjoy frequenting with her late love. While there, she sees a stranger, Tom (Harris), who looks exactly like Garrett. She decides to track him down in order to get to know him better.
After obsessively frequenting LACMA on a regular basis, Nikki finally spots the man again, and follows him to his job as an art professor at one of the local colleges. After building the courage to speak with him, she convinces Tom to give her private art lessons, even though Garrett was the one who had a true interest in art. Tom is immediately honest about the pain he dealt with while going through his divorce from his wife (Amy Brenneman) 10 years ago. But Nikki decides to keep the similarities between the two men, and the fact that Garret died, a secret from Tom.
Nikki also keeps her new relationship hidden from her daughter and her neighbor, Roger (Robin Williams), who was friends with Garrett and is interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with her. While developing strong romantic feelings for Tom, Nikki finds a catharsis in moving on from her marriage, even though she’s keeping secrets from all those who matter the most to her.
Posin and McDuffie created a gripping, touching and relatable story in the lengths people are willing to take to overcome their pain and heartbreak in ‘The Face of Love.’ Nikki is innovatively presented as a grieving widow who’s understandably trying to adjust to her new life without her cherished husband, who she spent most of her adult life with. While she seemingly appears to finally be moving on, she’s drawn back into her anguish when she meets Tom and witnesses the startling similarities between Garrett and him. While Nikki should have divulged the striking resemblances between Garrett and Tom to her new love, it’s understandable that she would want to hide that secret, as a way to preserve her fantasy of reuniting with her late husband.
Bening and Harris were well cast together as the lead roles in the romantic drama, as they both captured the pain and tension their respective characters were trying to contend with throughout the character-driven film. The two former Academy Award-nominated actors both powerfully and emotionally presented their characters as still contending with the agony that came after the loss of their spouses, who fell on the comfort of being with each other to ease their pain.
The BAFTA Award-winning actress, in particular, convincingly captured her character’s quick descent back into her sorrow of finding love again after the end of her marriage. While she initially can separate Tom and Garrett’s identities, Nikki tragically slides back into her mourning as she truly witnesses their uncanny and strong resemblances. Spending an increasing amount of time with Tom, and keeping secrets from everyone in her life, ultimately cultivates a harrowing breakdown in Nikki. Her emotional collapse leads her to ponder the important question of whether she can truly separate herself from her marriage, and be happy in creating her identity that’s free from Tom.
‘The Face of Love’ is a powerful, emotional exploration of how grief can powerfully influence people’s motivations and actions, and the extreme lengths they’ll go to in order to hold onto their past relationships and lives. Posin and McDuffie generated an enthralling, moving and relevant love story about two adults trying to find contentment and happiness again after the ending of their marriages, and the questioning of whether they can truly open themselves up and be completely honest in a romantic relationship again. Bening and Harris infused their characters with an emotional rawness and intensity that fervently shows their characters are still struggling with the distress that came after the loss of their spouses. Their relatable and captivating performances proved that no matter how long a person has to contend with their grief, they still need reassurance and comfort from others who truly care for them.