Directed by Robert Benton
Based on an acclaimed novel by college professor Charles Baxter, this character drama revolves around a number of stories as observed by Morgan Freeman’s Harry, who sees all of these events as they unfold. He’s there when Bradley’s wife first connects with the woman she’ll leave Bradley for, and he sees the two young lovers who work at Bradley’s coffee shop falling in love, and he’s there to offer advice to all of them. After the loss of his wife, Bradley finally meets Diana (Radha Mitchell), a real estate agent who’s been having an affair with a married man, one that continues even when she moves in with Brad, starting his cycle of bad luck anew. Meanwhile, two of his young employees, Oscar and Chloe, have fallen in love but their relationship will be put to a number of tests. In need of money, they let themselves be filmed having sex, but nothing ever comes from that subplot except adding to the film’s abundance of nudity, much like Benton’s adaptation of “The Human Stain.” While it gives those who enjoy the nude female form a reason to see the movie, it’s completely unnecessary to the story, and one has to really question whether the nudity might put off older viewers who might enjoy the stories. Fortunately, Selma Blair–playing her second departing wife in a row–Radha Mitchell and newcomer Alexas Davolos are also competent actresses, so they’re more than just the skin factor.
Generally, the movie jumps around a lot between these stories and as usual, all of these lives intersect with far too many coincidences like Bradley and Diana moving in next door to Harry and his wife (played by Jane Alexander). At least we can be glad that the movie doesn’t go for some of the usual romantic cliches, as seen in movies like “In the Land of Women,” and for the most part, all of the emotions seem genuine. The performances by Kinnear and Freeman are both solid and among their best, though Bradley is such a hapless sad sack that you can’t really feel sympathy since he seems oblivious to what’s going on around him, even though it seems fairly obvious to us.
Sadly, every ensemble drama must have a weak link and in this case, it’s blonde pretty boy Toby Hemingway who coasts along as a “bad boy” abused by his guardian, named “The Bat.” It seems like a sub-plot that might set up some tense conflict, but that aspect of the storyline winds up as little more than a pointless red herring that’s quickly forgotten then revived late in the movie. Ultimately, you’re never given much reason to care about his character, or anyone else for that matter, so watching their stories unfold tends to be a dull and futile effort with very little pay-off.
The Bottom Line: