Runaway Bride

          Screwball comedies reached their apotheosis in the 1930s with
  such gems as
IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and TWENTIETH CENTURY
   
(both 1934), MY MAN GODFREY (1936), BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
  and
HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1939). An outgrowth of the influx of Broadway
  writers, this genre incorporated standard elements: generally antagonistic
  couples thrown together by Fate, sharp, quick dialogue and a subtext
  of class warfare or class differences.

          The heroines were usually rich and spoiled and the heroes were
  working stiffs. The conflict came not only from their differing world
  views but also from the differences in the sexes. One could almost
  argue that the genre could trace its routes back to Shakespeare's
  
"The Taming of the Shrew" and forward to the comedies of Neil
  Simon. But the specific genre of "screwball" gradually gave way to
  parody and then faded away. In this post-modern society, it would
  seem odd for someone to try to replicate that genre. But attempts
  have been made -- mostly with little success. Part of the problem
  stems from the social upheavals in the latter half of the 20th Century,
  part of it is due to the fact that actors rarely generate that
  old-fashioned "star quality" (whether it was manufactured by studios
  or not). The glamour and the sense of entering a different, foreign
  world rooted in a form of reality has been replaced by futuristic
  sagas, animated worlds and a more egalitarian view in cinema.

          Some critics have argued that we do have an heir (actually heiress)
  to that hey day in the person of Julia Roberts, pointing to
    PRETTY WOMAN (1990) and MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING (1997).
  Certainly those films attempt to work in the vein of a screwball comedy
  but key ingredients are missing. And excuse me but Julia Roberts is
  no Carole Lombard or Katharine Hepburn. She can sometimes be
  an engaging performer, but she lacks a certain quality that the
  actresses of another generation possessed. The film
RUNAWAY BRIDE
  tries to trade on her status as the reigning queen of film comedy.
  That the script leaves her and her co-star Richard Gere a bit stranded
  is not their fault, though.

          Back when the pair were first teamed in
PRETTY WOMAN under
  Garry Marshall's direction, Roberts was an unproven quantity and
  Gere's career was floundering. Somehow they managed to turn the
  conceit of a businessman who hires a street hooker for company into
  a charming and delightful romantic comedy. Call it chemistry,
  happenstance, whatever, audiences embraced the film and made it
  one of the year's top-grossers. Naturally the studios wanted to
  reteam the actors immediately. In the vagaries of contemporary
  Hollywood where the stars now have more control over their careers,
  it took almost ten years. The pitch for
RUNAWAY BRIDE probably
  sounded terrific: "She keeps leaving men at the altar and this
  curmudgeonly newspaper man goes to investigate and it's love/hate
  at first sight." Sounds promising, perhaps. Somewhere in the execution,
  however, something was lost.

          There are plot holes large enough for the
TITANIC to sail
  through -- for example, one complaining letter from a woman who
  feels maligned in a newspaper column and the journalist is history.
  What? She's never heard of a lawyer? And when did
USA Today move
  its headquarters to Manhattan and become THE national paper?
  (I mean, I HAVE to read it everyday for work but I can't name five
  other people who read it.) What ever happened to the old days
  when a fake name for a paper would have been used? (Oh yeah,
  product placement, synergy and all that.) Anyway -- overlooking
  the gaps of logic in the story and the fact that Gere and Roberts
  ignite few genuine sparks -- whatever chemistry they had in 1990
  has now morphed into a comfortable familiarity. They work well
  together but it's the feeling of wearing warm fuzzy slippers not
  the potential danger of combustibility.

          Despite my misgivings, so help me the piece does work.
  Marshall is not the subtlest of directors but he does manage
  to keep the pace moving and has surrounded the stars with the
  kind of stock company of strong supporting actors that would make
  Preston Sturges proud. Joan Cusack once again proves what a delightful
  character player she is and Christopher Meloni elicits a few chuckles
  as Roberts' fourth fiancé, a gung-ho football coach who treats her
  inability to commit as if it could be cured by sports psychology.
  Paul Dooley as Roberts' father also contributes to the fun but
  Hector Elizondo (in his 10th film under Marshall's direction) and
  Rita Wilson suffer from underdeveloped characters. In a role that
  has eerie echoes to her own life (Kiefer Sutherland anyone?), Roberts
  manages to use her considerable charm to get by. Her performance
  struck me as more surface, though. We never got more than a
  passing glance at why her character left three men at the altar --
  even videos of the events -- flashbacks meant to enlighten the
  audience didn't really help, except that the three guys seemed
  like losers (a wannabe rock star well-played  by Yul Vasquez, a
  schlub who becomes a priest essayed by Donal Logue and a
  preening scientist who initially tips off Gere to the story acted
  by Reg Rogers). As in
MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING, Roberts
  is playing a driven woman who could be unlikable but in her hands,
  with her cascade of hair and her overused megawatt smile,
  whatever dark side these women may have gets overpowered.
  Whether Roberts is unwilling to take the risk of playing an out
  and out nasty character or if it is that she lacks the thespian
  skills to navigate those aspects, it ultimately doesn't seem
  to matter. She flashes that movie star appeal and audiences fall
   under her spell.

          For me, though, the real enjoyment of the film came from
  watching Gere cut loose. In the past, he has often seemed hamstrung
  or withholding. He could be interesting to watch but something
  intangible was missing. Either Marshall in his direction or Roberts
  in her partnering elicits a more playful side to the actor. Gere
  has never been more relaxed or charming on screen.

          Would I recommend
RUNAWAY BRIDE? I guess, with strong
  reservations, I suppose I would. Although, in truth, I'd prefer to watch
  any other screwball comedy.


                                  
Rating:                C-
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.