Gentlemen, start your date engines. Return to Me is not a weirdly cast lovey dovey movie, it’s a chick’s dream. Co-writer, co-producer, director, and supporting actress Bonnie Hunt has made a sweet, sad, gentle movie that (while requiring one surprising major coincidence) is totally natural, tender, and funny. Hunt is generally cast in films as the best friend who anchors our lead in reality – she has done the same for herself her. She has also by extension provided an emotional anchor for the entire movie (as a director) – she coaxes a modest, charming, character for David Duchovny (who is not at all bland or hollow as he has been in previous big screen outings) and a vulnerable, winsome character for Minnie Driver (who is not the terrific spaz overwhelming her menfolk as she has done in previous outings). They are perfect matches for each other – but what brings them together is a surprise I do not want to ruin.
I will say right now that I dropped a tear (or several) a *minimum* 5 times while watching this film, and it could have been more, had I let myself. The previews make this movie look daffy and silly – and there are genuine moments of warm daffiness, adorable old men (including an almost unrecognizable Carroll O’Connor – you know, Archie Bunker!), and silly shenanigans. But thankfully, Hunt does not rely on the yuk-a-minute tactic for her romantic comedy, instead making the tension between the two people unknown and quite poignant.
I hesitate to make this comparison, because the majority of the movie I am about to cite was *not* so good, but the one thing that did work in You’ve Got Mail was the brief moment in the cafe when Tom Hanks realizes who Meg Ryan is, and she, not knowing who he is, dresses him down. That moment of knowledge, the emotional conflict that Tom’s character had, *that* was the best thing about that movie and a capsule of what makes this movie work. The situations are not all happy and joking and oh aren’t we precious, and that’s what makes it work. The people are insecure, they have baggage, but neither of them are over the top with their burdens or parodying real life folks’ real life versions. David Alan Grier comes close to parodying a real person – but his intentions are pure and in the end, he’s only a catalyst by his behavior, so we can forgive him being drawn so broadly. And as always he is funny.
Hunt is sweet and supportive and kind in this movie as in all others, but she now has a funny foil of a husband in James (not Jim) Belushi. You got that right – Bonnie even got him to turn in a kinder, gentler performance and it’s her toning down of everyone that makes the movie work. The old men (Driver’s character’s grandfather and his cronies) are funny and talk over each other and have a wonderful chemistry – their love for her is pure and sweet and old fashioned, and there is the requisite hearkening back to the more romantic days, i.e. the days of the big band, a can’t-miss musical influence for a movie like this one. But between arguing who is better, Dino or Frankie, we all agree there’s no love like old-fashioned love. Even Duchovny can’t work a microwave while grandpa’s putting CD’s in to “enhance the mood.” (Oh but the big band in the scene near the beginning is awful!) (in a good way)
It’s sweet, it’s charming, it’s romantic, it’s tragic, there’s some serious Catholic business thrown in but it’s that warm fuzzy Catholic stuff, not the brimstone-smelling stuff. I really enjoyed it and I hope it does gonzo in the box office so they make more like it. Driver and Duchovny are a fantastic on-screen couple, if you can believe that. There’s even a nice great ape preservationist message in there. Go see it!
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 2/18/00
Time in minutes 115
Director Bonnie Hunt