April 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: Widow caught up in complex drama of 'The Face of Love'

Ed Harris and Annette Bening star as a couple in a difficult romance in 'The Face of Love.' (Dale Robinette)

Old age, romance, grief, delusion and desperation all intersect in “The Face of Love,” a far-fetched tale that nevertheless manages to be affecting.

Nikki (Annette Bening) is in Mexico celebrating her 30th anniversary with husband Garrett (Ed Harris) when Garrett goes for a swim in the ocean and drowns. Nikki, obviously, is devastated.

Jump five years ahead and Nikki is moving somewhat numbly through life. Her grown daughter (Jess Weixler) lives in far-off Seattle, she’s friends with a widower neighbor (Robin Williams), but her life is empty.

Then one day, while walking through an art museum, she sees a man who looks exactly like Garrett. She follows him for a while, bewildered, enchanted. But then he drives off.

So she begins hanging around the museum, hoping to see him again. Eventually she spots his car and learns from parking tags on it that he’s on the faculty at a nearby college. She goes online and finds out his name is Tom (Harris again) and he teaches art.

She clumsily approaches him and asks for painting lessons. He doesn’t know what to make of this woman who seems infatuated with him, but he’s not going to fight it. She hides all pictures of her late husband, tells Tom she’s divorced and the two fall in love.

At this point, obviously, the question of how and when Tom will discover he’s a doppelganger of Nikki’s dead husband hangs over the entire film. Nikki — who never calls Tom by his name — begins to fade in and out of reality, treating Tom like Garrett, but he’s so smitten he doesn’t even notice.

Director and co-writer Arie Posin paints himself into a planned corner here. The sincere and oblivious Tom is headed toward inevitable heartbreak just as Nikki is bound to find herself exposed. But along the way, Posin meditates on the pain of aging, the lives that drift in our wake and the nature of love.

Bening and Harris both give typically strong performances, and Weixler has an outstanding breakdown of a scene. But Williams is left playing a mopey blank who exists merely as contrast.

The basic concept demands a stretch from viewers, but the film touches on some primal issues with grace. Do the dead ever really leave us? Do we want them to?

'The Face of Love'

GRADE: B-

Rated PG-13 for brief drug references

Running time: 92 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/toomuchTomLong