Melodrama often risks the ridiculous to achieve the sublime, and though this unabashedly earnest tearjerker doesn’t completely transcend its narrative absurdities, it’s enough of a distinctively odd duck to keep you engaged. In the first few minutes, vacationing L.A. interior designer Nikki (Annette Bening) discovers her husband, Garrett (Ed Harris), dead on the seashore, the victim of a riptide. Fast-forward five years, when our still-hurting protagonist – shades of Vertigo – starts pursuing Garrett’s almost exact physical double, Tom (also Harris), a local art teacher. Can romance possibly bloom again?
In a film of this sort, the actor is the auteur; turn the clock back to Old Hollywood and this could have been a vehicle for Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. Bening holds similarly captivating court, unearthing heartbreak in every gesture. The scene in which Nikki first approaches Tom is a masterful display of outer awkwardness masking inner torment. Harris is every bit her equal, both hardened and sensitive to the point that he can make a ludicrous line like “I could take a bath in how you look at me” ring with swoonworthy sincerity, while Robin Williams lends strong support as the neighbor who harbors an unrequited crush on Nikki. It’s refreshing to find a love story – even one of modest aims and accomplishments – that plays all its heated emotions with a completely straight face.