In the all-time best romantic comedy ever, “The Philadelphia Story,” Jimmy Stewart says, “The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges.” Not really — the prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is movies like that one, and like “The Runaway Bride.” When people say “they don’t make movies like that anymore,” this is the kind of movie they mean. It is a welcome tribute to the kind of 1930’s screwball romantic comedies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy (“Libeled Lady”), Melvyn Douglas and Irene Dunne (“Theodora Goes Wild”), or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (“Carefree”), and the most delightful romantic confection of the summer.
The stars and director of “Pretty Woman” have reunited and the result is far better than the original, which relied heavily on star power to lend gloss to a story with some bitter undertones. This time, Richard Gere plays Ike Graham, a cynical columnist for USA Today who writes a quick angry column about a small-town woman who has left three grooms at the altar. That woman is Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts). When she writes the paper to point out 15 inaccuracies, he is fired by his editor and former wife (Rita Wilson). So, he goes to investigate Maggie, thinking that he can sell a story about her that will vindicate him and restore his career.
Maggie is getting ready to try another wedding, this time with a local high school coach named Bob. Ike ingratiates himself with the people in Maggie’s Maryland home town, so picturesque that it could have been painted by Norman Rockwell. Maggie’s father (Paul Dooley) obligingly loans Ike the home videos of Maggie’s three previous attempts at making it all the way up the aisle, with a Greatful Dead fan, a scientist, and a man who, following their break-up, became a priest. At first, Ike hopes for another last-minute bolt from the ceremony to make his story, but as he gets to know Maggie, he begins to hope that she won’t go through with it so that he can be fiance number five.
Roberts and Gere create real screen magic together. They are clearly very comfortable with each other and with Garry Marshall, the director (who appears onscreen briefly in a baseball game). Gere displays a previously unsuspected light comic talent that is utterly disarming. Roberts just gets better and better; like the character she plays, she is learning to rise above her “excessively flirtatious energy.” The indispensable Joan Cusack, this generation’s Eve Arden, plays Maggie’s best friend, utterly supportive despite having to live through four different bridesmaid’s dresses. And three cheers for adding a small but genuine dose of psychological insight to give a little bit of substance to the story. Both Ike and Maggie have to learn something about themselves before they can move forward together.
The best moment in “Pretty Women” was when Gere asked Roberts what the fairy tale princess does when the prince rescues her, and she replies, “She rescues him right back.” That theme is carried over into this movie (along with the “tell off the boutique salespeople” scene and actors Hector Elizondo and Larry Miller). Families can use this film to initiate conversations on the importance of being a full person yourself before you are capable of making a commitment to anyone else.
Parents should know that the PG rating comes from brief sexual references (please, someone, no more grandmothers making lusty comments as a source of humor — that was tired back on the TV show “Phyllis”). Also, Maggie’s father has a severe drinking problem which appears to be solved when she develops the courage to confront him about it. Families who enjoy this film should try renting some of the classic romantic comedies listed above, along with “My Man Godfrey,” “Bringing Up Baby,” and “Holiday.”