Message in A Bottle packages the strength of a love story about finding love again, with the breathtaking beauty of the sea, and seasoned actors who make endearing characters come alive to bring an unforgettable romance to the screen.
It reminisces of "Bridges of Madison County" but with a stronger and more real-life appeal. Theresa Osborne (Robin Wright Penn) is from the city, quite happy in her work as a Chicago Tribune researcher, and as a mother to Jason. But in her moments alone, she has to deal with the reality of her husband leaving her for another woman, sometimes forced to face the two of them and their own toddler when she brings Jason to visit with him. Garret Blake (Kevin Costner) restores sailboats in a seaside town, he looks after his father Dodge (Paul Newman), and keeps a shrine for his wife Catherine in his house, even after her death 2 years ago. He has left every brush, oil, pastel crayon and easel where it was as when she died. It was through the letter he wrote to Catherine which Theresa found in a bottle at the beach that brought him and Theresa together.
I thought the development of the story was fast paced at the start, when the mystery of the letter sender was quickly revealed in the first quarter of the movie that I wondered what was to be expected to happen for the rest of the story. And after that initial, exciting build-up leading to the meeting of Garret and Theresa, the pace slackened - a bit too slow for my taste as the pair discovers their attraction. What added relief to the intense, romantic, but sometimes, dragging moments is the appearance now and then of Paul Newman's character Dodge. Dodge has his own hurts to heal, but his stubbornness not to let Garret go through the same path he did, and his curt but witty remarks brings out laughter and makes him truly endearing. One notable scene is in the diner when he flared up when asked why he chose a particular seat. The romantic scenes are also complimented by the scenery. The glorious backdrop of the sea - you'll almost feel relaxed as you hear the breeze rustling the leaves, the lapping of the waves on the shore and the cry of the seagulls.
Kevin Costner as Garret could have done better. He convinces us that Garret is a simple unassuming man, but I was hoping to see the same man who wrote with such sensitivity and passion to his wife and I just couldn't find it in Kevin. Robin Wright Penn however, is very inspiring. She shows you just what it is like to fall in love in these times. She shows both the vulnerability and the strength of which Theresa is made of. She draws the viewers into feeling for her - her courage to go into something so unsure, her excitement, her joy in letting go and loving again, and then, her fear of expecting too much.
Another character who brings comic relief is Theresa's editor Charlie. Robbie Coltrane couldn't be more perfect for the role. He leaves the audience on guard, wondering if he is really the big bully which he seems to be or someone with a soft heart. Anyway, I end up laughing at his antics whenever he comes on screen. Best scene is when he gave Theresa a framed picture of himself. In all of the movie, I think it is Charlie who is the most unreal, as I find it hard to believe that there could be editors who are genuinely caring for their staff in this way.
Perhaps it is also the script that adds to the magic of the story - the dialogue was written so cleverly and the scenes made just so that I can say, hey, this is real life, this is what everyday people say and feel and think. No false pretensions. You will especially be drawn to it if you were broken yourself. You will recognize the same words that you said and the same odd things that you did and only you understand that is right. You will also not miss the glaring contrast of the two lifestyles - Garret in slickers, literally smelling of grease and sea salt in his beach home; and Theresa in her power suits, in a modular office and a sea of computers. How they are able to bridge this difference gives me hope. I'm not really sure myself if this kind of relationship will work, but who knows what can happen if we really try?
The message of love in Message in a Bottle is courage. To go on, in spite of, despite of. In spite of the hurt in the past, in spite of the uncertainty of the future. There will be others who have been broken too and their courage will inspire and sustain you.
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