Feast of Love is based on a series of vignettes by the novelist Charles Baxter set in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But for one reason or another, says its director, Robert Benton, he couldn't shoot in Ann Arbor, so he brought a film crew to Portland instead.
"Portland didn't feel too big—kind of like a university town," he says. "There's a kind of memory of the '60s, and I love that about Portland."
In other words, it's cheap to shoot here. To give Benton credit, though, the movie does go so far as to give our smug slacker haven some lines of its own, even if Portland has lost the malevolent edginess it had when Gus Van Sant shot Drugstore Cowboy here in 1989.
Now Portland's screen character is that of a benign matchmaker. A coffee shop owner, Bradley Thomas (Greg Kinnear), gets chatting with the adulterous Diana (Radha Mitchell), who's kept from leaving by a rainstorm. (That coffee shop, by the way? The Fresh Pot on N Mississippi.) Meanwhile, Bradley's wife, Kathryn (Selma Blair) meets her lesbian lover at a softball game, while Morgan Freeman's character, Harry Scott, begins the movie carrying a bag from Powell's. How Portland is that?
Hang on a minute. Did somebody say "lesbian lover?" Yes, indeed. Times have changed not just for Portland, but for Benton, too. Now almost 75, he co-wrote the screenplay for 1967's Bonnie and Clyde, but famously agreed with the movie's director, Arthur Penn, to remove a scene featuring a ménage à trois between Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) and their co-bank robber, C.W. Moss (Michael Pollard). Penn convinced him the audience would think the characters were "sex freaks," says Benton. But does he think moviegoers are more open to plots involving alternative sexualities these days?
"Definitely," he says. "I think today you could do Bonnie and Clyde with that original story in it, and it'd be fine. I totally think that's one of the great, positive things that's happened in movies."
To that end, Feast of Love is uncompromising in its portrayal of lesbians, adulterers, and star-crossed straight lovers alike. Indeed, love in Feast of Love is energizing and regenerative, but also profoundly destructive, though the reliably typecast Freeman (who plays the same wizened, sagacious man he has in The Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, and countless other films) is the only character to understand this.
That said, all of Feast of Love's Portland-flavored charm and emotional honesty likely isn't going to net Benton another Oscar—sure, the film's an enjoyable, intelligent fall romance, but its attributes end there. Still, you should probably go see it anyway, if only to point out Reed College.