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With: Juliet Stevenson, Kevin Bishop, Paul Rhys, Allan Corduner
Written by: Ventura Pons, from the novella by David Leavitt
Directed by: Ventura Pons
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity and language
Running Time: 112
Date: 02/01/2002

Food of Love (2002)

1 Star (out of 4)

Behind the Music

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Hollywood spends considerable money -- and hours and hours of script meetings -- making sure its characters are "likable." That's the first thing an audience will turn on to and they're the only thing that will bring them through a mediocre movie. The concept of "likable" can run the gamut, from a sweet Meg Ryan-ish Manhattanite looking for love to a leering John Malkovich-like bad guy. But occasionally a filmmaker, through bad casting or bad writing or both, stumbles upon a truly hateful character -- and it ruins the whole film. Written and directed by Ventura Pons, Food of Love, which opens today at the Opera Plaza, is just such a film.

The lead character, Paul (Kevin Bishop), loves classical music and aspires to be a pianist. He lands a coveted job turning pages for British pianist Richard Kennington (Paul Rhys, of Vincent & Theo). Richard notices the eager, blond lad, and when they bump into each other later on in Barcelona, he seduces the youngster. The trouble is, Paul is in Barcelona with his newly divorced and highly needy mother (Juliet Stevenson), and though the trio constantly meets up for lunches and excursions, Paul forever seeks excuses to be alone with Richard. To top things off, Richard already has a live-in lover back in the States, Joseph Mansourian (Allan Corduner, of Topsy-Turvy), who also acts as Richard's agent.

When the summer ends, the Barcelona lovers go their separate ways. Paul returns to New York and tries to immerse himself in music school. But by this time he has proven himself such a witless, polished preppie that it's impossible to tolerate him. He's hugely conservative and conceited -- tucking his tight polo shirts into his jeans -- and even Richard laughs at his big white grandpa shorts the first time Paul undresses in front of him. Every time he speaks in carefully calculated sentences you want to slap him. (It never gets any worse then when he engages in a polite discussion with his college roommate over E.M. Forster's novel Maurice.) It's difficult to believe that one of the warmest and loveliest forces in movies, Juliet Stevenson (Truly Madly Deeply), could give birth to such a twit.

Once the audience is turned off by Paul, the rest of the movie begins falling apart. Director Pons assembles his story like a brittle, airless museum exhibit in which every piece is dusted and set precisely in its place. You get the feeling that if someone were to suddenly laugh or fart the whole movie would crack apart and shatter. It goes without saying that Food of Love fails as a romance, as well. How can such a cold movie claim to express warmth and longing? In truth, it has all the heart of a porno flick (but none of the sheer lust). Nowhere does Pons fail more than in his direction of Stevenson, who is normally so good that she can save anything. And she does have a few very nice, very touching scenes, as when she tries to seduce Richard, unaware of his sexual preference. Yet Pons continually gives her cliched scenes to play and banal dialogue to read -- she discovers her son's sexual preference by, no joke, cleaning his room. No one on earth could make a moment like this work. The movie scrapes absolute bottom when Pons has Stevenson attend a group meeting for mothers of gay children. She has to sit there while other characters preach safe sex to her as if she were a moron. Maybe she has to sit there, but we sure don't.

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