Director Robert Benton spent much of the 1980s and '90s making movies for and about grown-ups — competent, well-acted films like TWILIGHT and NOBODY'S FOOL that all too often fell through the cracks of a market obsessed with four-quadrant appeal and teen-male demographics. Benton and screenwriter Allison Burnett's adaptation of Charles Baxter's acclaimed multicharacter novel about the vagaries of love among a group of Portland, Oregon, friends will probably fare no better at the box office, but will come as a nice surprise to adults who consider a trip to the multiplex an exercise in futility.
Affable coffee-bar owner Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear) is a firm believer in love: According to Bradley, love is the only thing that makes life in this crazy world worth living. But Kathryn (Selma Blair), Bradley's wife of six years, doesn't see the point in loving without really looking, and resents Bradley's blindness when it comes to seeing her for the person she really is. When Bradley buys her a dog for her birthday — knowing full well that she can't stand man's best friend — Kathryn packs up and leaves him for another woman (Stana Katic). Crushed but still starry-eyed to the point of myopia, Bradley gets what he hopes is a second shot when he meets Diana (Radha Mitchell), the elegant real-estate agent who helps him find a new home. They begin dating, but unbeknownst to Bradley, Diana, a tough cookie who thinks love is little more than a trick nature plays on humans to ensure the survival of the species, is still carrying on in a torrid affair with married former-client David (Billy Burke). Meanwhile, at Bradley's cafe, recovering junkie and full-time barista Oscar (Toby Hemingway) has fallen in love with new hire Chloe (Alexa Davalos), a pretty young drifter who believes in harmonic convergences, star signs and the redemptive power of love. Undeterred by the bad news she gets from a fortune-teller (Margo Martindale) regarding Oscar, Chloe decides to soldier on in her relationship, convinced that it's far better to love and possibly lose than never to love at all. All these affairs of the heart unfold under the watchful eye of Portland University philosophy professor Harry Stevenson (Morgan Freeman), a habitue of Bradley's cafe. Though still happily married to Esther (Jane Alexander), Harry has come by some hard-won knowledge about the nature of love, limits and seeing people for what they really are, courtesy of a recent tragedy from which he has yet to recover.
Many of the script's observations sound as though they were lifted directly from the pages of Baxter's book, and they're too platitudinous to impart much wisdom to anyone who's been in and out of love at least once in his or her life. But it's nice to see these ideas played out by a fine — and in several key roles, largely unfamiliar — cast. Particularly good is Davalos, a former model who manages to overcome the initial cliches of her character: If she plays her cards right, she just might be the next Michelle Pfeiffer. leave a comment --Ken Fox