The Face of Love is not so pretty

Capitol Manuka, Palace Electric

As an actor, you look for a role with meat and substance. A character facing emotional highs and lows, often in the same scene, the chance to laugh and cry but, most importantly, ripple under the surface of your resting face with the inner torment of the backstory you've created, your eyes wearing the weary countenance of this character's long journey.

Trailer: The Face of Love

A widow falls for a man who bears a striking resemblance to her late husband.

As a ticket-buying cinema-goer, however, you want a film of meat and substance that is more than just a good set of exercises for the actors looking to stretch their range and talents.

Unfortunately, this is what The Face of Love feels like.

Nikki (Annette Bening) falls in love with Tom (Ed Harris), who looks exactly like her dead husband.
Nikki (Annette Bening) falls in love with Tom (Ed Harris), who looks exactly like her dead husband. Photo: Supplied

Annette Bening is incredible. Always has been and particularly so here, playing a woman whose husband dies in the film's early moments - shock, disbelief, terror, plaintive cries, grief, woe - and then when she has rebuilt her life, a man with the exact same face as her dead husband comes into her life and she begins a sexual relationship with him - surprise, disbelief, curiosity, nervousness, hopefulness, happiness, anxiety.

Nikki (Bening) is a loving wife to Garrett (Ed Harris), mother to Summer (Jess Weixler) but when Garrett drowns while the pair are holidaying in Mexico, it takes Nikki many years to rebuild her life. Five years on, her friend and neighbour Roger (Robin Williams) is pestering her to start dating again - specifically dating him - but she says she isn't ready. Then a man walks by and is the exact doppelganger of her husband. Tom (Harris again) is an artist and teacher, and intrigued by the likeness, Nikki enrols in one of his classes, then begins spending more time with him, but rather than address the psychology behind her attraction to him, she starts a relationship with him and shuts out anyone who might recognise the likeness or tip Tom off to his similarity to Garrett.

It's an interesting set-up, sure, but this happens rather quickly and what comes next is 50 uncomfortable minutes, the awkwardness building, you knowing what is going to happen.

Director Arie Posin keeps the pace slow, giving his actors plenty of time to limber up and emote away. In the case of Bening and Harris, this is great to watch. In the case of Williams, perhaps a bit too much so, in a role that should have been nothing. With an actor of this heft, there is a lot of characterisation going on for little obvious reason.

Posin rescues his film in its final moments. I walked away thinking it was sweet, where for the hour before I had been shuffling in uncomfortable tedium.