Return to Me
by Del Harvey
Actress Bonnie Hunt shows off her writing and directing skills in this enjoyable love story that recalls classic films from the ’40s.
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Ladies and germs, from the schmaltzy opening title tune (crooned by Dean Martin) to the closing reprise of the same smarmy music, Return To Me is a movie for lovers. Now, I will tell you that I’m a guy and I liked it. So relax, men - and those women amongst you who aren’t the pink-lacy-frilly-wearin’ types - there is humor and a story to this film, so you ought to enjoy it. And what there is most of all, is heart. And lots of it.
Yes, there’s a pun there. See, Minnie Driver’s character (Grace Briggs) has had a bad ticker all her life. In fact, that’s what killed her mother, when Grace was just a child. Now Grace battles with heart disease, awaiting a heart donor, often bed-ridden but always positive and optimistic. And one fateful day she finally gets a heart, thanks to an anonymous donor - a woman who died in an auto accident and was one of those people who opts to be an organ donor on their driver’s license. So now Grace (Minnie Driver) gets a second chance at life. As it turns out, the poor lady who died in the car accident (Joely Fisher) was architect/builder Bob Rueland’s (David Duchovny - The X-Files, Playing God) wife, and he’s devastated by the loss. But this is a movie about the fates and about the playfulness of life, even when all seems lost. And, as the fates would have it, these two will eventually meet and fall in love.
But I’m not really giving anything away here. You’ve seen all this in the trailer. Besides, it’s a love story…you know, of the “boy-meets-girl” variety. It’s just a little more complicated than that.
In many ways Return To Me is a tribute to the old-fashioned romantic comdies of the 1940s. The film was directed by actress Bonnie Hunt (The Green Mile, Jumanji, Jerry Maguire), who also co-stars as Grace’s best friend. In many ways, Return To Me is really a movie with lots of heart and the reminder that there are two basic things that we all need to get by: friends and family.
Duchovny’s best friend is David Alan Grier, who plays a very successful playboy/zoo veterinarian. Now, there’s a real fantasy for you. But no matter who he sets his buddy Duchovny up with, it never works. Duchovny fights it, because he can’t let go of his wife’s memory. This was a good role for Duchovny. He shows off depth and real growth as an actor, and I was pleasantly surprised to find he reminded me, in some small way, of actors from a much more refined era.
Minnie Driver (An Ideal Husband, Good Will Hunting, Grosse Point Blank), is a wonderful actress, and seems to be headed to bigger and better things. In Return To Me she does a good job with a role that is quite similar to the character she played in An Ideal Husband - light and carefree. There are no fireworks for her in Return To Me, in which she plays a good girl who has led a sheltered life surrounded by a loving family. Not one of your edgier roles. But she does a better job with it than other actresses have with recent and similar opportunities (Sandra Bullock comes to mind first and foremost).
Driver’s aforementioned “family” are an odd bunch, including Carroll O’Connor as her Irish “Grampa” and Robert Loggia as the Italian uncle (through marriage to O’Connor’s sister). Together they run the only Irish-Italian restaurant in Chicago (O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant), which is inhabited by friends Emmet, Wally, and Sophie. This gang of septuagenarians watches over Grace like a bunch of old hens, and subsequently get some of the best comic lines in the film. It’s good to see these movie veterans having fun, and especially good to see O’Connor back on the big screen.
This is Bonnie Hunt’s directorial debut, and she does an excellent job of creating a story reminiscent of the old Irene Dunne-Cary Grant romantic comedies. Ms. Hunt shows promise and talent as a director/screenwriter, and I look forward to her next effort. Jim Belushi provides support as her husband and father of their five children. His comic touches are few but appropriate and not too heavy.
Return To Me is an enjoyable mixture of fantasy and humor and warm-hearted fun, the main message of which would seem to be, “life’s too short.” And that’s not really such a bad motto to live by.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He used to work for Disney, Lucasfilm, and the Directors Guild of America.
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