Friday, September 28, 2007

"Glimmerless" Feast of Love? Skip the Movie, Read the Book

You've already seen the previews, and today, in the Calendar section of the LA Times, is a full-page ad for the movie "Feast of Love." It looks and sounds so promising -- featuring Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, Greg Kinnear, Fred Ward -- and directed by Robert Benton, who also did "Kramer v. Kramer."

Most exciting of all, though, in my world, is that the movie is based on a 2000 novel by Charlie Baxter, long a Michigan resident and writing teacher at U of M, fairly recently departed to Minnesota. He was an old friend in my early days as a poet, and has had a long and much-beloved tenure on the faculty of Warren Wilson College, where I got my M.F.A. Baxter has written many novels and one of my favorite collections of essays about writing, Burning Down the House.

My husband and I loved The Feast of Love (Hollywood removed that pesky article) -- it was one of the first books we shared after reconnecting in 2001. I remember huddling happily in my little high-ceilinged kitchen at Divorcee Manor during one of Ted's earliest visits to Flint, listening to an interview with Charlie on NPR. Ted and I both loved his characters, including one named Charlie Baxter who begins the novel by suffering an "identity lapse"; the laconic Bradley, with a dog named Bradley; the inimitable Chloe, whose favorite interjection was "Fuck and be damned," and her ex-stoner boyfriend Oscar who, Chloe says, is "real good looking once you get his clothes off and into his characteristic behavior."

We also loved that the story was so rooted in the Midwest -- actually set in Ann Arbor; Chloe and Oscar make love once on the 50-yard-line of The Big House. First bad sign: in the Hollywood version, the story's in Seattle. Not the same, not the same. Not to us beleaguered and sensitive Michiganders.

As Ted and I feared, the movie apparently hasn't made the translation well in other ways from Baxter's rich and humanely developed characters. I'd heard rumors Baxter wasn't happy with the screenplay. Today's LA Times also ran a review, and a fairly damning one at that. (No chance of the Flint Journal doing the same, even with local connections, since they fired most of their local reviewers). Under the headline, " 'Feast' doesn't bring enough to the table," reviewer Carina Chocano says "Robert Benton's film about love and loss is free of catharsis and is neither funny nor sad." She adds, "Underneath the characters' surface diversity, they are flat and one-note..."

In the opening of the novel, Charlie's protagonist Charlie, trying to orient himself back to himself, poignantly states, "I am glimmerless. I write down the word next to my name."

"Glimmerless," as it happens, seems unfortunately to describe the movie. But it in no way describes the novel, which is abundantly three-dimensional, thoughtful, funny and sad. Sounds like this is one time to skip the movie, and read the book.

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