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Return to Me

Review by Joe Barlow
Posted 14 April 2000

Directed by Bonnie Hunt

Starring David Duchovny, 
Minnie Driver, Carroll O'Connor, 
Bonnie Hunt, David Alan Grier, 
and Joely Richardson

Written by Bonnie Hunt and Don Lake

Bonnie 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.

Bob (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.

Grace (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.

Romantic 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.

Return to Me's 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.

But 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 the movie.

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