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Its hardly a compliment to say that Runaway
Bride is better than Pretty Woman. That odious exercise in bad faith was a
romantic comedy so smarmy it required a shower to wash away its stink. It was the
nadir of its genre, a film so cynical and manipulative that Runaway Bride, its
virtual sequel, couldnt be worse if it was directed by Ed Wood himself.
Thats unfair to Wood. Wood
made better films than Garry Marshall. Marshall's nothing if not competent: the film is
lushly photographed, well paced, and decently acted. Its state of the art
mediocrity, cannily packaged to wring every emotion while offering bland reassurance and
no offense. Runaway Bride wants so badly to be liked its less a movie than a
Marshalls roots are in sitcom,
and it shows. His storytelling has all the finesse and pungency of your obnoxious drunken
uncles slurred war stories at Thanksgiving. He labors every point, underlines each
emotion with a vapid close-up and a music cue to tug at the heart. One could follow the
story blindfolded, listening to nothing but the music: its that over-determined,
that scared that you might feel something other than whats intended. And if you
blinked or left for popcorn, just wait - Marshall will repeat everything you missed. Plus
theres a recap over the closing credits, just in case.
The opening sequence sets the tone.
Julia Roberts, stunning in a wedding gown, rides through breathtaking autumn woods on a
stallion, accompanied by U2s "I Still Havent Found What Im Looking
For." It tells us everything we need to know about her - shes young,
beautiful, freewheeling and undecided - with all the subtlety of a jackhammer to the head.
It looks and feels precisely like an ad for Secret deodorant.
Richard Geres New York
columnist is then introduced with a close-up of Mark Twain. This is an insidious
leitmotif: whenever Marshall wants to let us know that Gere is a man of substance, he
drops the name of a dead genius. Gere is explicitly associated with Twain, Yeats and Miles
Davis. (In an unintentionally hilarious scene, Roberts tries to win him over by giving him
a "rare" Davis album. The film is so lazy and inept that we see her handing him
a battered copy of Kind of Blue. He purrs over it, because "You never see a
copy of this in good condition." Kind of Blue hasnt been out of
print in the forty years since it was released. A copy in good shape is about as hard to
find as a Gap store.) The hubris here is shocking - invoking the names of great
artists to make your half-realized character look deep is not only lazy, its a
Marshall panders shamelessly with
innumerable cute shots of animals and children . We get two different sets of adorable
triplets, several babies, a pair of twins, all presented so as to force a gushing
"Oooooh." He get his biggest laughs from a randy granny. This is sitcom
territory, but it lacks even the crass virtues of competent television. The spirit is
closer to Marshalls own "Joanie Loves Chachi" then to
The performers do what they can.
Joan Cusack is the best thing in the film, as she usually is. She has a gift for
enlivening cliches, taking terrible ideas and goosing them with her perfect timing and
elastic face. In this film, shes called on again and again to prop up best friend
Julia Roberts with a perky smile. Its an awful, thankless role, yet Cusack makes it
work anyway, running endless delightful variations on the only thing Marshalls given
her to do.
Julia Roberts is disappointing. She
was marvelous in her last comedy, My Best Friends Wedding. In that film, the
screenwriters provided her with real dilemmas and pitted her against complex antagonists.
She never relied on her charm and she was willing to be unpleasant. This deepened the film
and made for what remains her best performance. Here she has no such luck: Geres
only competition for her arm is a football coach who might as well be wearing a sign
reading "Loser." Shes left with nothing at all to do but smile her
dazzling smile or pout when shes sad. Its a waste of a fine actress.
Gere suffers most in the film.
Hes required to play an inane conception: the cynical, sexist columnist who learns
how to love. This requires him to be relentlessly smug for the first hour, then
unrelievedly moony for the last. Hes awful in both modes - all that can be said of
this performance is that he looks good in Armani.
This is a profoundly cynical movie
about the need to overcome cynicism. It invites us to feel superior to the small town life
it revels in. There are half a dozen belittling references to "The Andy Griffith
Show." Yet the film milks that small town for nostalgic warmth shamelessly.
This isnt the ambivalence of Preston Sturges Americana, where a sincere
appreciation of the value of that lifestyle is tempered by an understanding of its
accompanying small-mindedness. This is cashing in on our longing for simpler times while
avoiding the risk of looking naive while doing so. These are terrible times indeed when a
Hollywood movie wont own up to its sentimentality.
- Gary Mairs