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Monday, May 08, 2006

Random movie thoughts - Return to Me

Watching GROSSE POINT BLANK a few days back got me in the mood for my other favourite movie starring Minnie Driver, RETURN TO ME, the 2000 romantic comedy directed and co-written by Bonnie Hunt. It was one of those movies that I didn't think I'd be interested in when it was in theatres (widowed man falls in love with a woman who got a heart transplant from his late wife? Wow, does that sound like it's in bad taste), but fortunately eventually tried on home video. Turned out to be one of my three or four favourite straight romantic comedies of all time (not that that's a big list), and it actually handled a premise that seemed doomed to tastelessness in a delicate, inventive and respectful manner while still bringing the funny.

One of the things I've noticed about romantic comedies is that the much-vaunted "chemistry between the leads" is one of the least important things determining how well the movie works. It's important, no doubt, and Driver and David Duchovny definitely have it, but for those I like, I think a strong supporting cast is even more important. The supporting cast provides a context for the characters, adds dimensions, makes them more than just the "cute couple destined to get together". Knowing they have other family and friends, and lives beyond the basic premise of the movie, makes you care about them more. They also provide vehicles for a lot more variety in the jokes to work on the "comedy" aspect of "romantic comedy". This movie has a great supporting cast, led by Carroll O'Connor as Driver's grandfather. Now, I grew up on ALL IN THE FAMILY, so it's normally hard for me to see O'Connor as anything but Archie Bunker, but within seconds of his first scene in this I didn't see Archie at all. Another surprising standout was James Belushi, who I normally can't stand, but I really liked here. Lots of other good characters, each with a key part to play, illustrating aspects of the leads larger lives while playing out their own little story arcs.

As usual, it's not enough for me to like a movie, I have to grouse about how the movie illustrates what's wrong with Hollywood. In the six years since the movie came out, why has Bonnie Hunt not written or directed anything other than some episodes of her TV show? This movie would seem to show that she knows how to write a strong story, full of humour, how to get the best out of her actors, how to use music and everything else you need. Yet her career since then seems to be a fairly uninspired TV show and some acting gigs where I'm sure she's the only thing worth watching (two CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN movies?).

I could say the same thing about a lot of the rest of the cast. Minnie Driver I already mentioned seems to have mostly vanished from noteworthy work since then. David Duchovny, I don't know what he's doing now, but he's always shown a certain affable charm in some bits of X-FILES and his recurring role as himself on the LARRY SANDERS SHOW, but it really come out in this movie, and seems to be underused in his other work.

I'm also kind of disappointed that the extras on the DVD are as sparse as they are. There's a commentary track by Hunt and co-writer Don Lake, which is a lot of fun, other than that just a music video and one deleted scene. The commentary mentions a few other bits that were cut that I'd like to have seen. I did really like the one cut scene they did include, some of the supporting cast singing Danny Boy. It's a perfect scene, but at the same time it makes perfect sense to cut it from the body of the movie, since it's more of a distraction at a crucial point.

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