“A woman knows the face of the man she loves as a sailor knows the open sea.”

— Honore de Balzac

This false spring brings us two movies with similar premises: that we all, somewhere have a double. The first is “ENEMY,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a high school teacher whose double is a movie star. That would be fun. I’ll take George Clooney.

The far better of the two is “The Face of Love,” and it’s better for two reasons: Ed Harris and Annette Bening, a nice coupling.

“Face” tells us the story of Nikki, a widow who decorates empty homes for realtor friends, so they look warm and lovable, ready to move in. But since Nikki’s hubby Garrett (Ed Harris) drowned on the beach in Mexico, her own life is an empty room.

Nikki needs someone ready to move in, and one day, five years after her husband’s death, someone does come along and wouldn’t you know, it’s Ed Harris again. Now that’s a gentler and generous God.


This Ed Harris is retired peripatetic painter Tom, who has returned from a life of wandering, to Los Angeles to teach art. We weren’t stunned to see that Tom looks exactly like Garrett, not a striking resemblance mind you, but identical, because we’ve seen all the previews that give almost everything away but the ending, and we won’t give that away here.

Nikki spies the artist Tom, while touring the campus of the local college where he teaches. Imagine her surprise. Wouldn’t you be? In this sun-washed Lazarus moment, Nikki’s life changes. Wouldn’t yours?

Nikki, without revealing too much, confides in her neighbor, Robin Williams, that she has met someone. Robin Williams. Robin Williams? It’s a disturbing and comic choice. His character clearly has had a crush on Nikki for years, and wants the very best for her. But Robin comes across as a bit creepy as he watches Nikki’s every move. Wasn’t Greg Kinnear available?

Nikki stalks her new back- from-the-dead beau, using strange duplicitous methods. They dine and wine, and eventually she beds the doppleganger. Well, it’s Ed Harris. Wouldn’t you?

But for most all of the movie, she never tells him the truth. She hides all the photos in her house, and lies to her daughter who is up in Seattle. Now we begin to suspect that our Nikki is in need of an Affordable Care Act psychiatrist.

Now we’re into Hitchcock country, as a patina of his famous “Vertigo” washes over what, without these two marvelous actors, would be a mid afternoon housewife Hallmark special. Director Arie Posin, who co-wrote the film with writer Matt McDuffie, knew this when he didn’t cast another team like Kevin Costner and Renee Zellweger. Smart man.


The “Vertigo-ness” comes in when Nikki falls deeper and deeper into the ensnarling web of her own making. While shopping, the new lovers look at a summer seersucker suit. In the store, he tries it on and she picks out a tie that completes an outfit we had seen on her deceased in flashbacks. Even a tiny homage like that reminds us of the grey suit Jimmy Stewart bought for Kim Novak, and how much better that film was than anything of that genre since.

But of course we know this can’t go on. Sooner or later the pot must boil over, attention must be paid, the veil torn. The daughter (Jess Wexler) senses something amiss when her mother, who never wanted her to leave, now doesn’t want her to come home, comes home and meets the new boyfriend. Now the cat is out of the bag, well, just the whiskers.

Nikki continues to grasp at her dream, and rushes Tom off to Mexico, to the very beach where the tragedy occurred. No more “Vertigo” here. There is no plunge from a church steeple, director Posin is too smart for that. He gives us a finale where a snapshot lets the entire cat out of the soggy bag.

Light as it is, Any movie with Annette Bening and Ed Harris is worth seeing, even if you wish it were a remake of “Laura.”

Now there’s an idea. I should add that the lovely, very much missed Amy Brenneman slips in and out.

Posin’s direction is professional, top tier pros like Harris and Bening would settle for nothing less. Antonio Riestra’s camera and Marcelo Zarvos’s score stay where they belong, and never intrude. Ultimately, “The Face of Love” is a love song played on gossamer wings with gentle notes.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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