Return to Me
Hunt's new romantic comedy, Return to Me, tries so hard to charm that I
find myself giving it a positive review just from the sheer force of its
enthusiasm. There is absolutely nothing new under the sun here, and the tired
set-ups the film offers its audience are not, as a rule, particularly well done.
But Return to Me finds its heart in the form of a spirited performance
from Minnie Driver -- which is very appropriate, considering the subject matter.
(David Duchovny) is a construction foreman, struggling to rediscover the joy and
meaning of life after his beloved wife, Elizabeth (Joely Richardson), is killed
in a car accident. Championing her memory, Bob has taken up the cause of Sydney,
a gorilla that Elizabeth studied and taught to communicate using a primitive
form of sign language. Bob promised his wife that he would build a new home for
Sydney, one that will provide the ape with more room to jump, climb and play
than the cramped quarters offered at the local zoo.
(Minnie Driver), meanwhile, is recovering nicely from a recent heart transplant,
though she feels that no man will ever want her now, since -- in her mind --
she's a "broken" woman. But sparks definitely fly when Grace meets
Bob, while waitressing at the Irish-Italian restaurant owned by her grandfather
(Carroll O' Connor, who steals every scene that he appears in). The twist, of
course, is that Grace happens to be the recipient of the late Elizabeth's heart.
Grace, who is extremely self-conscious about the scar on her chest, is reluctant
to reveal her medical history to Bob... particularly after she uncovers the
identity of her donor.
comedies live or die by the chemistry of the two lead players, and director
Bonnie Hunt (herself a talented actress) has cast the film well. Duchovny, who
will never escape the shadow of "The X-Files," is nonetheless an utter
charmer in his first romantic leading role, and the chemistry between Bob and
Grace owes a lot to the considerable acting chops of both lead players. Driver
is stunning, as always, bringing a stunning sensitivity to Grace's frail psyche.
Nor are the two leads the only performers doing fine work: Carroll O' Connor
deserves a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his excellent performance here.
biggest failing is its reliance on the clichéd "I can't tell so-and-so the
truth" plot device. The lengths Grace goes to in order to hide the fact
that she's had a heart transplant are ridiculous. As in The Truth About Cats
and Dogs and While You Were Sleeping, this tactic is employed only
because without it, there'd be no movie. Needless subterfuge is the lifeblood of
romantic comedies, and it's a shame that such a pleasant film mires itself in a
ham-fisted plot set-up.
Return to Me is so sweet and charming -- and hilarious, once the somewhat
morbid opening scenes are out of the way -- that it manages to succeed as
entertainment. Don't expect the film to be one whose every nuance you'll ponder
afterwards, but do expect to have a good time; even if the leads weren't
perfectly matched (is there another actress capable of projecting Minnie
Driver's sincerity?), then Carroll O' Connor's charming performance as Grace's
sensitive, yet crotchety, Irish grandfather is more than enough reason to see