3 items from 1999
"Runaway Bride" reteams Julia Roberts and Richard Gere with their "Pretty Woman" director Garry Marshall in hopes that the magic of that 1990 triumph will repeat itself. Remarkably, the actors have only gotten better looking with age, and there's no question the chemistry between them still works for a light romantic comedy. But an overcalculated, undernourished screenplay undermines much of the effort.
The stars, along with the momentum of Roberts' success with "Notting Hill" this summer, nearly guarantee good boxoffice for Paramount and Touchstone. How high the grosses go depends on audiences' willingness to tolerate lightheadedness that mistakes itself for lightheartedness.
The problem is that the linchpin holding the story in place in Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott's screenplay is awfully weak. In a way, it resembles a murder mystery in which nobody bothers to discover who killed Reginald in the library with a carving knife.
USA Today columnist Ike Graham (Gere) faces a deadline with no idea of what to write. A brief conversation with a guy in his favorite bar inspires him to write a column about Maggie Carpenter (Roberts), a Maryland woman who is a serial engager. She loves being engaged, but when she stares down a wedding aisle, she always runs away.
The column has a few inaccuracies, and Ike gets fired. So he heads for Hale, Md., on a free-lance assignment to cover Maggie's fourth attempt at marital bliss, thoroughly convinced that she will bolt again and it will somehow salvage his journalistic reputation.
Naturally, Maggie instantly dislikes the reporter who wants to humiliate her, and from that point, their relationship takes an all-too-predictable path to love.
Marshall and his writers cannot decide how seriously they want to treat their hero's chauvinism or their heroine's neuroses. They certainly don't want Gere to come off as a hardass or Roberts as a fruitcake. Charming eccentricity will do.
Thus, the filmmakers ignore even the most fundamental psychology and treat their characters' hang-ups -- such as the alcoholism of Maggie's father, her flirtation with her best friend's husband and Ike's failure with women -- as comic plot devices.
Nor is there any explanation of why the community of Hale so lovingly embraces the big-city journalist who smeared a local woman. "Runaway Bride" is determined to be a vehicle for its stars, showing little concern for design flaws in the vehicle itself.
Roberts and Gere are clearly enjoying themselves, and audiences may well shrug off the film's shortcomings to join in the good feelings. Marshall and his writers concoct occasional odd moments that satisfy, such as a barbershop quartet that includes the town's mayor, sheriff and the out-of-town journalist or a prenuptial luau that feels perfectly normal in rural Maryland.
The pixilated townsfolk have been seen in countless films and TV shows. But the actors -- including Joan Cusack, Paul Dooley, Christopher Meloni and Laurie Metcalf -- play the cliches with such energy that you can't help an occasional smile. Rita Wilson and Hector Elizondo turn up as Gere's ex-boss (and ex-wife) and her current husband, whose cozy relationship with Gere is never fully explored.
"Runaway Bride" is likable in the way a maiden aunt who lives in another era is likable at family gatherings. If enough activity and good-hearted feelings abound, no one is likely to notice she's a bit dotty.
Paramount Pictures/Touchstone Pictures
in association with Lakeshore Entertainment
Writers:Josann McGibbon & Sara Parriott
Executive producers:Ted Tannebaum, David Madden, Gary Lucchesi
Director of photography:Stuart Dryburgh
Production designer:Mark Friedberg
Music:James Newton Howard
Maggie Carpenter:Julia Roberts
Ike Graham:Richard Gere
Coach Bob:Christopher Meloni
Mrs. Pressman:Jane Morris
Mrs. Trout:Laurie Metcalf
Running time -- 116 minutes
MPAA rating: PG
While "Never Been Kissed" isn't the first comedy about revisiting high school, it's the only one lucky enough to have Drew Barrymore in the lead.
A delightful, cringe-inducing trip back to one of the most awkward times in most people's lives -- except, perhaps, the captain of the football team and the head cheerleader -- the Fox release gets crowd-pleasing marks thanks largely to Barrymore's winning, fearlessly geeky performance.
Departing from traditional date-movie demos, "Kissed" should have men and women enthusiastically puckering up to big boxoffice effect.
Barrymore plays Josie Geller, a smart Chicago Sun-Times copy editor and charter member of the grammar police who's aching to have a Page 1 byline, not to mention her first real head-over-heels, toe-curling love affair.
She manages to get a shot at both thanks to an undercover assignment that has her returning to high school eight years after she graduated to report on the lives of today's teens.
Fear of being found out is significantly superseded by her terror of reliving a particularly painful adolescence. Not only was she a card-carrying, braces-wearing, first-class nerd, but her cruel classmates used to call her "Josie Grossie", a name incidentally coined by her cool brother Rob (David Arquette).
It appears history is about to repeat itself as Josie, eager to be accepted by any group, befriends the nice but geeky Aldys (Leelee Sobieski). Fortunately, thanks to a little push from her take-no-prisoners editor (Garry Marshall), the supportive presence of her cute and sensitive English teacher (Michael Vartan) and intervention from her brother, Josie ultimately prevails.
While the picture is essentially another Cinderella story for Barrymore, she makes it fresh thanks to her seemingly innocent ability to be thoroughly adorable without a trace of preciousness or cloying cuteness.
Her willingness to plumb the murkier depths of geekdom will have countless viewers squirming along with her when not laughing themselves silly.
She is surrounded by a very capable cast. Arquette puts in one of his most satisfying performances as her ever-popular brother. Sobieski, who could easily play Linda Hunt's kid sister, adeptly plays the part of the much-maligned overachiever who wears her glasses like a sheet of armor.
Also good is Marshall as Josie's big-stick-wielding editor; John C. Reilly as her weary, immediate boss; Molly Shannon as her guy-hungry co-worker; and Vartan as her smitten teacher.
Although some of the serious passages can get a little squishy in the dialogue department, including an exchange between Barrymore and Vartan that unintentionally conjures up the name Lolita, the situations generally ring all too true.
Behind-the-camera performances are across-the-board pleasing, including great song cues -- a bit of Madonna here, a slice of Pat Benatar there, a marching band wrestling with the opening strains of "The Simpsons" theme -- that neatly sum up the eternally surreal high school experience.
NEVER BEEN KISSED
20th Century Fox
Fox 2000 Pictures presents
A Flower Films/Bushawood Pictures production
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenwriters: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Producers: Sandy Isaac, Nancy Juvonen
Executive producer: Drew Barrymore
Director of photography: Alex Nepomniaschy
Production designer: Steven Jordan
Editors: Debra Chiate, Marcelo Sansevieri
Costume designer: Mona May
Music: David Newman
Music supervisors: Mary Ramos-Oden & Michele Kuznetsky
Casting: Justine Baddeley & Kim Davis
Josie Geller: Drew Barrymore
Rob Geller: David Arquette
Anita: Molly Shannon
Gus: John C. Reilly
Rigfort: Garry Marshall
Sam Coulson: Michael Vartan
Aldys: Leelee Sobieski
Running time -- 107 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
At first glance, "The Other Sister" would appear to be a TV movie with loftier ambitions.
Fortunately, looks can occasionally be deceiving. A romantic comedy about love among the intellectually challenged, this potential crowd-pleaser earns its big-screen stripes thanks to its energetic, highly capable cast and some zesty direction by Garry Marshall that undercuts the soapier aspects with liberal jabs of unexpected humor.
Speaking of challenged, Touchstone's marketing staff certainly has their work cut out for themselves given the picture's tricky subject matter. But if they succeed in getting initial audiences through the door, enthusiastic word-of-mouth could translate into some respectable returns.
In a comeback of sorts, Juliette Lewis gives one of the most grounded, accomplished performances of her young career as the spirited Carla Tate, a somewhat mentally challenged 24-year-old determined to emerge from under the overprotective wing of her controlling mother, Elizabeth (Diane Keaton).
Having overcome many of her previous problems during her years away at a Special Ed boarding school, Carla returns home to her family a capable young woman despite a pronounced speech impediment and the occasional emotional outburst.
Eager to assert her newfound confidence, Carla enrolls herself in a regular tech college much to the protests of Elizabeth, who doesn't want to see her get hurt. There, Carla meets Danny (Giovanni Ribisi), a similarly challenged young man.
Living in his own apartment but under the supportive, watchful eye of neighbor Ernie (Hector Elizondo), Danny falls in love with Carla, and her resulting feeling of unconditional acceptance goes even further to fan the flames in a battle of wills between herself and her mother.
Lewis is wonderful in the role, breathing life into a character who is alternately compassionate and humorously endearing. Her quest for and ultimate achievement of her independence is registered in a series of personal awakenings that are reflected across her face like warm rays of sunshine.
Ribisi, recently seen in "Saving Private Ryan" and coming up as a member of the big-screen "Mod Squad", is equally adept at never pandering to what could have been a cloying character. Keaton, meanwhile, does a finely balanced job in portraying a person whose stubborn hardness is betrayed by her own admitted insecurities about her perception as an effective mother.
Also good are Tom Skerritt as Lewis' understanding, former alcoholic father and Poppy Montgomery and Sarah Paulson as her supportive sisters. And Juliet Mills, in a nod toward her "Nanny and the Professor" days, puts in a welcome appearance as the equally sympathetic Winnie, the family nanny.
Marshall, who also co-wrote the script with longtime collaborator Bob Brunner, accomplishes the not-so-easy feat of averting much of the potential pathos by mixing some well-paced comedy into all the confrontation. Occasionally, some of the material's more virtuously squishy aspects poke through, but for the most part, things are disarmingly upbeat.
Among the technical attributes, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who received an Oscar nomination for his work on "L.A. Confidential", keeps it fairly bright and simple here, as does Stephen J. Lineweaver's production design and Rachel Portman's syrup-lite score.
On the tunes' end, the Pretenders' performance of the Diane Warren-penned "Loving You Is All I Know" sounds like a winner.
THE OTHER SISTER
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Director: Garry Marshall
Screenwriters: Garry Marshall & Bob Brunner
Producers: Mario Iscovich, Alexandra Rose
Executive producer: David Hoberman
Director of photography: Dante Spinotti
Production designer: Stephen J. Lineweaver
Editor: Bruce Green
Costume designer: Gary Jones
Music supervisor: Kathy Nelson
Music: Rachel Portman
Casting: Gretchen Rennell Court
Carla Tate: Juliette Lewis
Elizabeth Tate: Diane Keaton
Radley Tate: Tom Skerritt
Danny McMahon: Giovanni Ribisi
Caroline Tate: Poppy Montgomery
Heather Tate: Sarah Paulson
Drew: Linda Thorson
Jeff: Joe Flanigan
Winnie: Juliet Mills
Ernie: Hector Elizondo
Running time -- 124 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
3 items from 1999
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