'The Face of Love' (PG-13)

The Face of Love is a tearjerker about a haunting, though not in a traditional supernatural sense. Thoughtfully directed and co-written by Arie Posin, the film is not a ghost story, nor is it played for campy laughs, but its melodramatic subject matter flirts with Douglas Sirk territory — and sometimes just dives right into it.

As the film opens, Nikki (Annette Bening) sits by the pool in her distractingly gorgeous Los Angeles home and mourns the husband she lost in a tragic accident. While they were vacationing in Mexico, Garrett (Ed Harris) drowned in the rough seas, and Nikki returned home alone, setting her jaw and suffering through her grief.

Five years later, though, after moving past the worst of her sorrow and surviving empty-nest syndrome, she finds herself one day driving past the Los Angeles County Art Museum, a place she loved to visit with Garrett, an architect and art collector. She wanders through the exhibits and out into the gardens, and there she spots a man sitting on a bench who looks exactly like Garrett. He rises and walks past her, and her heart leaps in shock and confusion — surely it’s him! But he doesn’t recognize her. Soon she is stalking the museum grounds like an anxious teenager, hoping to run into him again.

What happens when Nikki tracks him down and discovers he’s a painter named Tom (also played by Harris) makes up the rest of The Face of Love. Posin (The Chumscrubber), doesn’t waste a lot of time on the hows of the situation; when Nikki tells her neighbor Roger (Robin Williams) about the incident, Roger shrugs the whole thing off casually and says, “You know what they say — we all have a double somewhere in the world.” Doppelgangers: They’re just like us, and they’re everywhere. Tom, for his part, is equally drawn to Nikki; he marvels at the way she looks at him, like she has loved him forever. What he doesn’t realize is that of course she has.

But the lack of logical explanation for Tom’s appearance isn’t what hinders The Face of Love. The film earns your acceptance of its absurd premise fairly easily. What grows frustrating is Nikki’s inability to tell Tom why she’s drawn to him and the near-misses with the truth that occur more frequently as the movie moves toward its conclusion. Even within the parameters of this unlikely story, her refusal feels too artificial, too much of a cheap way to build tension. The tried, true and painfully overused formula of one lover lying to another until the movie’s final 10 minutes or so is popular in the worst romantic comedies and feels dreadfully out of place in this more stately, more ambitious romantic drama.

Cast: Annette Bening, Ed Harris, Robin Williams, Amy Brenneman, Jess Weixler.
Director: Arie Posin.
Screenwriters: Matthew McDuffie, Arie Posin.
Producers: Bonnie Curtis, Julie Lynn.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 92 minutes. Brief drug references. Playing in Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Arts Cinema.