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'The Face of Love' review: Just keep swimming

The Face of Love


"The Face of Love" began its theatrical run in Houston starting today at the Sundance Cinema.

Tom (Ed Harris) takes Nikki (Annette Bening) on a date.
Tom (Ed Harris) takes Nikki (Annette Bening) on a date.
Photo courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission
The official theatrical poster for "The Face of Love."
Photo courtesy of IFC Films, used with permission.

After 30 years of marriage, Nikki (Annette Bening) loses her husband Garrett to a freak drowning accident in Mexico. Naturally she grieves in ways you'd expect; seeing him everywhere even though he's gone and not being able to bear the sight of his belongings. Five years after his death, Nikki finally seems like she's ready to move on. She hadn't visited the museum since Garrett passed, but she goes on a whim one day out of the blue. It's there that she discovers Tom (Ed Harris) and thus begins her new obsession.

Tom is physically identical to Garrett in every way while they both share the love of art. Nikki begins a relationship with Tom without ever revealing he looks exactly like her late husband. What will Tom do when he finds out? What will Garrett's best friend and Nikki's next door neighbor Roger (Robin Williams) have to say and how will Nikki's daughter Summer (Jess Weixler) react?

"The Face of Love" rides on one little secret being hidden until it's too late to make a difference. You find yourself constantly yelling at Nikki and the screen throughout the film. The characters would be put through a lot less anguish if they would just come clean early on, but then you wouldn't really have much of a movie. That underlying friction and building tension is what "The Face of Love" banks on to keep its audience intrigued.

Early on, Nikki finds herself drifting between memories of being with her husband and currently being alone. She's haunted by sounds of the ocean and refuses to go swimming because of how her husband died. Next to art and painting, "The Face of Love" seems to be a giant infomercial to never give up on swimming. The way Nikki strings Tom along is cruel as is the way she treats the family friend Roger, who now loves her, and her daughter Summer. It's a very selfish story with an extremely ironic ending.

The foundation of "The Face of Love" tries to steady itself on revolving around broken individuals attaching themselves to something in order to move on in life. Nikki latches onto Tom while Tom is suddenly inspired by Nikki and begins painting for the first time in 10 years. What's interesting is that bringing Tom into her life causes Nikki to shove everyone else currently close to her out of it. Tom becomes Nikki's anchor while everything else becomes floating debris that gets in the way of her goal.

But Tom's identical similarities to Garrett keep Nikki from moving on. She begins treating him as if he is Garrett and her grieving process starts all over again because of it. It's as if the film is attempting to portray that any widow is as desperate as these two characters are to reclaim what they once had even if it means destroying what's left of their lives in the process. It's not worth losing any unique attributes you may have just to attempt to make it work with the woman you love solely because she can't get over her late husband.

"The Face of Love" is a frustrating experience. The story may have a fascinating premise, but it makes a sharp turn into foolishness rather quickly. While Ed Harris and Annette Bening do share decent on-screen chemistry, their illogical behavior and almost humorous conclusion leave you feeling disappointed and unsatisfied.