No surprises here, but it is a pleasant date-movie, a romance that tries hard to transcend its gimmick and just about succeeds. Let’s get the gimmick out of the way first – guy has girl (architect Bob — David Duchovney — married to beautiful Elizabeth — zookeeper Joely Richardson). Then guy loses girl in a car accident, guy meets new girl named Grace (Minnie Driver) who doesn’t want to tell him that she had a heart transplant, guy finds out that the heart came from his late wife, and everyone gets over it and gets on with living happily ever after.
I know, I know, it is a very creaky premise. At least it isn’t one of those movies that drags out the telling part and then just as she is about to spill the beans he finds out anyway and it takes another half hour to straighten it all out. And at least there is no maudlin “Chicken Soup for the Soul”-type stuff about how this is the gift his late wife brought to him or anything like that. Grace tells Bob as soon as she finds out and it does not take him too long to figure out that he loves her anyway, and if it just happens that the big clinch happens in Italy, where he was always trying to take Elizabeth, we won’t make too big a thing of it.
We know where it is all going from the first five minutes. So we can sit back and enjoy the ride, in the capable hands of director/co-star/co- scriptwriter Bonnie Hunt. Hunt, a terrific character actress (Renée Zellweger’s sister in “Jerry Maguire” and Tom Hanks’ wife in “The Green Mile”) lets the couple’s friends and family add a lot of life and depth to the story. They give Bob and Grace more personality and interest, sort of character by association.
Grace lives with her grandfather (Carroll O’Connor), owner of an Irish-Italian restaurant that is home to a community so adorable and loving that they could be birds and cherubs perching on the finger of an animated Disney heroine. Her friend Megan (director Hunt) is living in happy domestic chaos with her husband (James Belushi) and four children. Bob’s friend Charlie (David Alan Grier) is there to fix him up with Ms. Wrong, so that he can have a reason to go to Grace’s grandfather’s restaurant and leave behind the 21st century equivalent of a glass slipper – his cell phone.
Everyone has to cope with the risks of letting others see us clearly. It is not just major secrets like heart transplants that people are afraid to share with others. Families who see this movie should talk about how people decide how much of themselves to share, about how people cope with loss that seems devastatingly overwhelming, and about Grace’s grandfather’s comment that “It is the character that’s the strongest that God gives the most challenges to.” Before Grace goes out with Bob for the first time, Megan advises her not to shave her legs, as insurance against “going too far.” This is a rare movie in which the couple does not go to bed together almost immediately, partly because of Grace’s sensitivity about her scar, and possibly also because Bob needs to take things slowly, too. Some families will want to talk about how couples make decisions about the risks of physical intimacy as well as emotional. And families should also talk about the loving way the people in this movie care for each other and enjoy each other.
Parents should know that though the movie is rated PG, there are a few strong words, including some used by children, and some mild sexual references.
Families who enjoy this movie will also like “Sleepless in Seattle.”