Forces of Nature (1999)
Directed by Bronwen Hughes
Cast: Ben Affleck, Sandra Bullock, Maura Tierney, Steve Zahn, Blythe Danner, Ronny Cox.
1999 105 minutes
Rated: (for sensuality, language and a scene of drug use).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 19, 1999.
After viewing "Forces of Nature," it was apparent that the film had attempted to be a little more off-beat, and a little more unconventional, than your normal romantic comedy, and credit should go to screenwriter Marc Lawrence and director Bronwen Hughes for lifting this one slightly above mediocrity, but they didn't go far enough. What might have been an original romance ultimately turned out to more often than not just as cliched as the rest of the worn-out genre, sort of like 1987's far superior "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" if Steve Martin or John Candy had had a sex change.
Ben Holmes (Ben Affleck), a blurb writer for book jackets, is a New Yorker only days away from getting married to his fiancee, Bridget (Mara Tierney), down at her family's victorian home in Savannah, Georgia. After getting on the airplane to travel up there, he meets Sarah (Sandra Bullock), a slightly off-kilter but bewitching young woman, who happens to be seated next to him. Even before the plane is able to get off the ground, a pigeon accidentally flies into one of the engines, causing the plane to crash and knocking Sarah unconcious. Once Sarah comes to, she is overly grateful to Ben, whom she suddenly kisses and exclaims, "you saved my life," while he is on the phone with Bridget to let her know he is alright. Since Ben and Sarah are both headed for Savannah, they decide to make their way up there together, all the while constantly running into various transportation and weather hurdles. Strangely enough, Ben begins to hear a lot of negative stories about marriage during this journey, and begins to question his impending marriage, as well as his blossoming relationship with Sarah.
Although you may think you know where this story is headed, you're most likely wrong, since one of the strongest things about "Forces of Nature" are the chances it takes, particularly for a mainstream romantic comedy, so that everything cannot be as easily predicted as expected. When the climactic moment came, set at a hurricane-swept wedding, the outcome was satisfying and realistic, and I appreciated this approach that was taken.
Unfortunately for all involved, what comes before the conclusion is basically well-traveled territory that wasn't exactly crying out to be reworked for the umpteenth time. The middle section, especially, as we follow Ben and Sarah in cars, on trains, and on a bus filled with elderly vacationers travelling to Miami, often came off as bland and uninteresting, as Ben and Sarah possibly begin to fall in love. All the obstacles in their way, of course, are nothing but plot contrivances to get the two people together, and it was this section of the film that was such a letdown, and nowhere near as entertaining or funny as some of the best road movies (1983's "National Lampoon's Vacation" and the aforementioned "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," immediately come to mind).
On the upside of things, Sandra Bullock is finally in the right direction after some blaringly bad film choices (1997's "Speed 2," her most annoying performance to date, and 1998's goofy, wildly misguided "Practical Magic"), but something tells me she should try something a little different next time, rather than yet another tiresome romance. Ben Affleck here has also found his best role since probably 1997's "Chasing Amy," and it is a big, big step up from last year's embarrassment, "Armageddon," as he has a great comic flare and perfect chemistry with Bullock. Screenwriting Lawrence is ultimately not as kind in his treatment of the supporting characters in "Forces of Nature." Tierney, as Ben's fiancee, Bridget, is disappointingly looked upon as more of a caricature than a real person, which is something that really perturbs me in movies featuring main characters who are "big stars." Blythe Danner and Ronny Cox, as Bridget's parents, mostly disappear into the background, but there is a funny turn here by Meredith Scott Lynn, as the bride's maid who comes into contact with Ben and Sarah on their way to Savannah. Lynn, a standout in 1998's "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss," deserves wide screen acclaim, maybe not for this film since she has very little to do, but hopefully in the future.
One of the highlights in "Forces of Nature" is the beautiful, mystifying cinematography by Elliot Davis, which paints a fantasy-style portrait of the several different types of extreme weather in the film. In one magical sequence, Ben and Sarah get stuck outside in a hail storm, via slow-motion, and we are able to see the hail, looking like heavenly crystals, falling gracefully from the sky. Meanwhile, the hurricane that arrives in the climax at the wedding, causes the various colorful napkins and decorations to star flowing around the characters, as if they are in a tornado crossed with a bright rainbow.
"Forces of Nature" is a sometimes enjoyable film, and Affleck and Bullock worked wonderfully together, but aside from the ending, why did the premise have to follow such a strict pattern of the usual cliches and plot devices that we so often see in movies of this type? Are there some set of rules I don't know about that have to be abided, no matter what, by the filmmakers of romantic comedies? While far from a complete misfire, "Forces of Nature" remains simply too by-the-numbers to be particularly gratifying or worthwhile.
©1999 by Dustin Putman