Food of Love
2003, PG-13, 112 min. Directed by Ventura Pons. Starring Juliet Stevenson, Kevin Bishop, Paul Rhys, Allan Corduner, Geraldine McEwan.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 31, 2003
Adapted from David Leavitt’s novel The Page Turner, Food of Love dips its toes – albeit ever so gently – into the affair between a British concert pianist, Richard Kensington (Rhys), and his young disciple, Paul (Bishop). At film’s beginning, Paul is hired as Richard’s page turner at a concert in San Francisco; the two later bump into each other in Barcelona, where a burnt-out Richard has gone to recuperate and Paul, an aspiring pianist bound for Juilliard in the fall, has fled with his barely hinged mother, Pamela (Stevenson). While Pamela sightsees and rediscovers her potential as a newly separated woman, Richard quietly seduces Paul; their continued affair, however, is carried out with such gentility, such politeness, that Richard’s older, wiser instruction in the ways of love might be confused for instruction in proper English tea etiquette. To say the least, the chemistry is lacking; equally unconvincing is the all-British cast’s attempts at American accents. (The usually quite good Stevenson takes the cake as the high-strung, bottled-blond Pamela, awkwardly dipping in and out of Southern Californian inflections.) None of the cast members appears particularly comfortable in their skin, although Bishop does effect an impressive character arc (too bad the arc starts with “soft and fawning” and ends with “sullen and tarty,” neither incarnation terribly appealing). This is the English-language debut of veteran Spanish filmmaker Ventura Pons (Amic/Amat), and, just like the off-by-a-hair accents, there’s something artificial in Pons’ depiction of America. His tour of Barcelona is lovely – confidently, affectionately lensed – but his versions of New York and San Francisco are vague, indistinguishable. There’s also a sort of flatness and sheen to the film that reek of TV Movie-of-the-Week melodrama, encouraged by enough moist looks to fill an entire evening of Lifetime programming. Interestingly, Food of Love finally begins to fall into place in the film’s third act, when the focus is shifted from Paul’s hero worship to Pamela’s dual realization that not only is her son gay, but he’s also very near to throwing away his – her – longtime dream of a life onstage. Here, Stevenson loosens the strings to deliver a less mannered, more honest performance; as she lays on a bed with Paul to talk about not much of anything, it feels like the first truthful moment in the film, in which one actually believes that these two are mother and son. Unfortunately, it’s also the last scene in the film.