Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Return to Me (2000)

Having lived in the Midwest for going on twenty-five of my fifty-plus years, I think I'm entitled to have a crush on Bonnie Hunt. She's bright and unassuming, almost bland--but underneath there's often (harmless) mischief at work. Her appearances on David Letterman's show capture this perfectly, two Midwesterners sharing a more or less private joke on the rest of the country: that, for all their goofiness, they too have figured out a few things--while all-but-flirting, happy to see a familiar face--in her case, the classic Chicago neighborhood kid, the perky blond who's not a dope or pest, the pal you still want to date.

I've glanced at her as a talk show host and performer, but it's her one effort as a theatrical film director that really shines. Return to Me does not ask us to do more than enjoy assured performances and melt a little into a mild conceit: that a man (David Duchovny) can find himself inexplicably falling in love with a woman (Minnie Driver) because, you see, she received the transplanted heart of the man's dead wife; it calls to him, and he follows. Can you picture this in black and white, sometime in the early 1940s, with maybe Myrna Loy and William Powell taking a break from the Thin Man? You might be more likely to forgive its contrivances; but Hunt's movie gives you all the opportunities you need to time-travel without guilt, its tone honest in the wish that such dreams can come true, without fanfare or smirking.

She is helped immeasurably by the performances. Minnie Driver is confident, as always, in her ability to be just as sweet as she needs to be--and also to pull back when necessary. And David Duchovny makes me mourn the movie career he should have had over the past decade, his blandness waiting to show some cracks and let him yearn a little, let him raise those pretty eyes to almost fill with tears. Again, I can feel Hunt's personality slip in: quietly sentimental and eager to make someone happy.

And then there's Carroll O'Connor (in his last film appearance) and Robert Loggia and David Alan Grier--and Bonnie herself--playing Dads and buddies, a TV family she would work with over the next decade. And maybe that's it: the benefit of the TV-movie vibe, which at its best (from Marty to Brian's Song to Something the Lord Made) gives us economy, sure-footed-ness, and general plot satisfaction. Return to Me is certainly satisfying, a nice evening with friendly, gently feisty Chicagoans who know true love when they see it, eventually.

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