|RETURN TO ME (2000)|
David Alan Grier
|Time: 113 mins.|
Official Web Site
The main reason I went to see this movie was because of it's director Bonnie Hunt. One of the most underrated comedian/actresses working today, I wanted to see how her talent would translate behind the camera. Remarkably, she pulls off RETURN TO ME, a film that could have gone either way due to its' innately over-the-top, squeeze-the-tears out of me storyline. It's still as much a six-hanky weeper as a comedy, but she manages to make this highly unbelievable plot something that's watchable. A lot of the credit can be given to the supporting cast Carroll O'Conner, Robert Loggia and Jim Belushi who steal much of the film from its romantic leads Duchovny and Driver.
Though for two stars who have never opened a movie, they manage to create a quirky, intelligent couple you look forward to seeing together. Duchovny gets to be goofy and more human than his regular role on the X-FILES allows, which is refreshing. Lest anyone think Fox Mulder is the only role he can play, RETURN TO ME will be a surprise. It's not grand acting, but he's charming and funny and that's really all that's needed here. The scene where he breaks down after his wife's death, will reduce anyone with a heart to tears. It will be interesting to see if he can become one of the next group of romantic leading men taking over the cineplex. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Driver is a good actress who doesn't really get to stretch her chops here, but at least she tries to give her character something different from all the other girlfriend roles she's been relegated to since CIRCLE OF FRIENDS dropped her onto the scene.
Be warned, right off the bat, that this is a story that takes a huge leap of faith to be enjoyed. If you don't buy into the premise, you won't like a minute of this film. That being said, it is a different take on love in the big city. Duchovny's character, Bob Rueland, loses his wife Elizabeth (played by Joely Richardson) in a tragic accident, leaving him despondent and lonely. Grace, played by Driver, is a young woman who's never been able to live life due to a heart condition. If she doesn't get a transplant, she'll die. As fate would have it, Grace get's Elizabeth's heart. Unknown to either of them, Bob and Grace meet, date and fall in love.
Grace is afraid to tell Bob she had a transplant because it makes everyone who knows treat her differently, like she's going to break. She wants Bob to think that she's just a normal woman. They are both devastated when they discover the truth. How does Bob reconcile his feelings for a woman whom he never would have loved if his wife was still living, who benefitted from his wife's death. Of course, then he wouldn't be in the dating market, but you get the point. Grace feels guilty for still being alive, enjoying life all because his wife died. The lovers separate, but not for long. The film ends just as it should, with everything wrapped up in a tidy package, but you won't want it any other way.
The film has many funny moments, however, it also has some very tragic ones as you can well imagine. It deals with some serious issues, though mainly on the surface. This is a romantic comedy after all. Some of the lines are hokey, some cut you to the quick with their simple honesty and emotion. The film manages to mix the romance, comedy and tragedy in just the right amounts. Was it manipulative? Absolutely. Did I mind? Not as much as I thought I would. It may be complete film fiction, but the plot makes you think about some complex and difficult issues and gives the actors some real emotions to chew on. Because the lovers don't find out until close to the end of the film about who's heart is residing in Grace's chest, you can actually believe that Bob fell for Grace because of her personality, not just because she has a part of his wife still living inside her. It's not hard to see why Grace falls for Bob. He's the only normal, good-looking guy in the entire film. That kind of narrows her choices a bit. Nothing new for romantic comedies.
Many of the best comedy moments come from the gang of elder gentlemen who try to work a little magic for the young lovers while they argue over cards and beer. O'Connor is wonderful as Grace's grandfather, dispensing love and advice with a twinkle in his eye. Hunt and Belushi are also quite funny as Grace's old married friends. Their scenes together crackle with humor, love and energy. I found David Alan Grier to be somewhat over-the-top and annoying, always hanging out with big-breasted women. Why Bob would be friends with this guy was a mystery to me. The only thing truly original about this film is the transplant twist, which gives it a depth other films of this genre generally lack. However, it's still pretty much standard genre fare. If you're looking for a romantic comedy with a bit of an emotional twist, then grab a pack of Kleenex and head to the theater. It's not the most memorable movie, but it delivers enough laughs and romance to be enjoyable.