Canadian director Arie Posin’s debut film, The Face of Love, is very much a case of “not a bad film, shame about the premise.” The script, co-written by Posin and Matthew McDuffie, is in the “shadow of a Hitchcock” mode, specifically a gender-reversed version of Hitchcock’s 1958 classic, Vertigo.
Annette Bening plays Nikki, a Los Angeles woman who makes a living staging people’s homes for resale, and otherwise spends most of her time grieving for her late husband, a handsome, doting partner and successful architect named Garrett (Ed Harris). As befitting their professions, the decor and architecture of the film are studiously tasteful throughout.
In an early scene, Nikki and Garrett go to Mexico for an anniversary holiday; Garrett ends up drowning and Nikki finds his body washed up on the beach. Five years later, she’s living alone in the house he built for her. She avoids the backyard pool, which is mainly used by her widower neighbour, Roger (Robin Williams), with whom she occasionally has dinner. Roger, who obviously dotes on her, is the equivalent of James Stewart’s gal pal, Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes) in Vertigo: an unromantic alternative to the dream lover.
As well as avoiding water, Nikki has shied away from art galleries since her husband’s death – they loved to look at paintings together. Finally, inspired by a comment from her daughter Summer (Jess Weixler), Nikki decides to drop into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There, she has a shock when she sees Garrett, or at least his exact double. She stalks him and they begin to date and fall in love. Tom, in case you haven’t guessed, is also played by Harris; he behaves just like Garrett but says he is a war vet, and a painter, divorced for 10 years, and shows little interest in her past.
Harris, macho and magnetic, and Bening, sensitive and high-strung, make for an appealing couple, as they fumble their way through a midlife love affair. But as experienced as these stars are, their characters are so illogically written, the best they can manage are effective moments in a chain of increasingly unbelievable behaviour. Nikki makes up stories about her past and avoids having family and friends meet Tom. After a while, it begins to feel like a confused comedy: How to explain to the neighbours that your dead husband has moved back home?
All this leaves the viewer shuffling through a limited stack of logical possibilities: Perhaps Tom is Garrett reincarnated? Did Garrett, following the Vertigo model, fake his death? Is Tom Garrett’s identical twin? You might imagine that Nikki would want to know. Or, at least that the scriptwriters would drop a hint.
Instead, through the head-scratching ending and mawkish coda, The Face of Love’s story runs and blotches like cheap mascara. Oh, Art, Life, Hitchcock, Death, Recurrence … Really, who can say?