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Dustin's Review
Return to Me (2000)
2 Stars

Directed by Bonnie Hunt
Cast: David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Carroll O'Connor, Bonnie Hunt, James Belushi, Robert Loggia, David Alan Grier, Joely Richardson.
2000 – 115 minutes
Rated: Rated PG (for mild profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 10, 2000.

One could say that romantic comedies are a dime a dozen, and yet, they never truly grow old, even when the workings of the plot, and the machinations of the romance, are fairly run-of-the-mill. Most people, male and female, whether they will admit it or not, gain a certain pleasure by watching characters fall in love on the silver screen. There are certain ingredients, however, that are vital to the making of a winning romance: the couple must be charming and have chemistry together, the writing sharp, the love story believable, and the film must create an urge among the audience to see the inevitable happen.

"Return to Me," comedian-actress Bonnie Hunt's directorial debut (she also stars), has most of these assets--its two central stars, David Duchovny and Minnie Driver, are delightful here; the screenplay has quite a few very funny moments; and the whole package has such an innocence about it that to say it isn't a good movie, I fear, may cause me to appear to be a grump. But the picture does, unfortunately, have several problems that often shields its central romance from being in the forefront of the action onscreen, and somehow amidst it all, the magic is lost by the final fifteen minutes. Oh, yeah; if there's one thing a romance needs to have, it's a satisfying, entertaining conclusion, and "Return to Me" is absent of such a quality that might have boasted it over into the category of a surefire success.

Set in Chicago, the film begins as Bob and Liz Rueland (David Duchovny, Joely Richardson), a happily married couple, are attending a fundraising event for the Lincoln Park Zoo, where Liz, who has a great love and compassion for animals, works. On the way home, there is an automobile accident and Liz passes away, to the absolute devastation of Bob. Meanwhile, also at the hospital, is Grace (Minnie Driver), a young woman who is on her death bed--either she finds a heart and has a transplant to save her life, or she will die. She gets one at the last minute, and one year later, has fully recovered to go about her life like any other healthy person, but with a noticeable scar running down her chest that forever reminds her of how thankful she always should be to be alive.

One evening, after Bob is convinced into getting out of his house and joining his friend (David Alan Grier) on a double date to "O'Reilly's Italian Restaurant," he is absolutely smitten with their lovely waitress, who happens to be Grace, and whose caring grandfather (Carroll O'Connor) owns the place. After returning later that evening to pick up his cell phone, which he accidentally left there, he runs into Grace again, and after talking, Bob takes the next step into getting on with his life--he asks her out on a date. Grace joyfully accepts (she hasn't had too many dates in her life, and is insecure about how her possible suitors will react when she tells them she has had a heart transplant). From there, a relationship blossoms, with neither knowing about their true fateful connection. Through a series of circumstances, Grace makes the discovery, but fears that if she tells Bob about his deceased wife's heart beating within her body, she may lose him forever.

The premise of "Return to Me" may be farfetched (how likely do you really think it would be that a donor's husband would unexpectedly run into the patient whose life was saved?), and the developments in the story easily telegraphed from beginning to end, but one shouldn't go to a film of this type looking for such things. As long as you believe in the characters, it shouldn't be a problem. In the case of Bob and Grace, both are likable, realistically drawn people who clearly deserve their happiness. While they do not meet until the second half of the first hour, their scenes together are nicely done, and credit director Bonnie Hunt for being an assured filmmaker. "Return to Me" is fluffy--perhaps too fluffy--and it certainly won't be mistaken as the work of someone who has been in the directing business for long, but Hunt gets the job done.

Since her first role in 1995's "Circle of Friends," Minnie Driver has done nothing but impress with each of her film appearances, so her work here is not so much of a shock. Like Grace, she is absolutely enchanting. What does surprise is David Duchovny's standout performance. Viewed almost solely as Mulder on TV's "The X-Files," Duchovny takes the role of Bob, someone clearly different from his small screen persona, and proves that he very well has what it takes to be a perfectly respectable leading man. In the early scenes, after Liz has died, Duchovny heartbreakingly brings across the true loss of a loved one, and in the second half, proves that he also has nice comic timing, as does everyone else here. Bonnie Hunt, especially, as Grace's best friend Megan, is hysterically funny with her on-target delivery of her lines. James Belushi ably supports Hunt as her nice-guy lug of a husband.

Where "Return to Me" falters is in a few of its technical choices, such as the old-fashioned, self-titled song, by Dean Martin, annoyingly placed in several scenes, including a key dramatic moment, and in its handling of the supporting characters in relation to the romance. Hunt has littered her film with so many attention-getting inhabitants that their quirkiness threatens to drown out the central storyline. While the entire cast is very good, it is Bob and Grace who should be the focus, but so much attention is made to everyone else that they occasionally take away precious screen time in which the romantic developments between the two could be strengthened.

While "Return to Me" plays out, you are not bored, but you also are not as satisfied as you could be, because its presentation, aside from the aforementioned dealing of the death of Bob's wife, is so soft-focused and lacks urgency. And just when you think the movie is over, things come to a sudden halt and the epilogue drags on for another fifteen minutes, leading up to very little that couldn't have been solved with some tighter editing. As a romance, "Return to Me" is mildly engaging, but severely uneven. Some parts practically scream for the cutting room floor, while the love story seems undernourished. There is a lot of promise with what there is of it, but not enough to support the needless excess that revolves around them.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman