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Runaway Bride

Review by Carrie Gorringe
Posted 30 July 1999

Runaway Bride   Directed by Garry Marshall

Starring Richard Gere,
Julia Roberts, Joan Cusack,
Rita Wilson, Hector Elizondo,
Christopher Meloni, Donal Logue,
Jean Schertier and Paul Dooley.

Written by Josann McGibbon
and Sara Parriott.

In The Runaway Bride, much is made of the fact that the Maryland-based heroine, Maggie Carpenter (Roberts) gets a bad case of stage fright while wearing a white wedding gown and has gone to elaborate lengths to evade matrimony -- three times in succession ("She may not be Hale’s longest-running joke, but she certainly is the fastest," quips Papa Carpenter (Dooley)). But when the local joke goes national, courtesy of reporter Ike Graham (Gere), Maggie decides that speaking the obvious is so offensive that she threatens legal action against his newspaper. An angry Graham, smarting at his subsequent dismissal and her attacks upon his journalistic abilities, decides to do some investigative reporting in her home town, and, not so coincidentally, report on the progress of her upcoming nuptuals to the local high-school football coach (Meloni). Graham has already written the ending of this fourth ceremony in his head. "You’ll run," he tells Maggie, "and when you do, I’ll be right there to watch." Forget white and red, or the question of whether or not Maggie and Ike fall in love (you have to ask?); the real question is how much "green" this picture will generate. Judging from the reaction I witnessed, the filmmakers will have to rent a fleet of eighteen-wheelers to truck the money to the bank.

Runaway BrideThis is not to say that everything runs smoothly in The Runaway Bride. Richard Gere has a lot of difficulty transitioning from irate to romantic. There are times during his performance where it’s not unreasonable to suspect that his thoughts are revolving more around the profit participation factor than in wooing Julia Roberts. She, on the other hand, turns on her usual mixture of coltish vulnerability and pluckiness and, also as usual, wins the audience to her point of view from scene one, regardless of how irrational the justifications for her character’s behavior might appear. Nevertheless, during some of their scenes together -- some of the scenes that are actually integral to the forward motion of the plot, no less -- the audience is treated to the rather embarrassing spectacle of watching Roberts emoting her heart out while Gere does a reasonable imitation of the pre-human Pinocchio. The delay in re-teaming these two actors has been somewhat costly in the realm of credibility.

There is a clue as to why this film often veers perilously close to disaster, and it lies right within the title. While writing the script for this film, the scriptwriters cannot have been unaware of another property, also entitled The Runaway Bride, this one written by Elizabeth Kendall. It is not a film, but a classic study of 1930s romantic comedies, and how certain narratives and actors conveyed themes important to their contemporaneous audiences (among the most important elements, of course, were optimism and the promise of marriage in an era when despair and delayed marriage were the norm). After seeing this film, it’s obvious that the writers have written this version by the genre book (not surprisingly, the very formulaic Three Men and a Little Lady is listed among their credits). Not only has the audience been cued to anticipate the long-delayed reunion of that Pretty Woman duo, but every very necessary plot twist, every character development falls into place right on cue, and the audience knows that each one is coming long before the resounding "thunk" of assemblage confirms it. Moreover, this Runaway Bride also contains themes that dovetail neatly with those of its own contemporary audience: fear of commitment versus the desperate need for it. There’s nothing wrong with this writing-by-numbers approach in theory, but in comparison with the spontaneity that marked a previous Roberts vehicle, My Best Friend’s Wedding, this new outing has the tang of staleness clinging to it far too often. The Runaway Bride isn’t sassy; Like Graham’s car in one brief (almost metaphorical) sequence, the entire enterprise threatens to break down more than once.

However, trust good old reliable Garry Marshall (who, it must be remembered, had the moxie to put a Cinderella spin on a story about prostitution in Pretty Woman and to make people come out in record numbers to buy the tale, in more ways than one) to come up with his own built-in salvage. Runaway BrideHe actually has three aces in the hole with which to accomplish this task: Hector Elizondo (always acting as an enhancement to all of Marshall’s films), Rita Wilson and Joan Cusack, and he hands them precious few situations and lines, but they’re there just often enough to keep this unwieldy film careening along on the right track. Elizondo and Wilson, as Graham’s best friend and ex-wife, respectively, are given a subtly sardonic, if predictable, bit to perform involving Maggie and a FedEx truck, and they carry it off with such relaxed precision that they inject vitality into the very obvious. You can feel the mood of the film lift in a manner that is almost tangible. Naturally, the incomparable Joan Cusack is her usual flawless self, veering from physical comedy to pathos to wit without hesitation. At some point during the first forty minutes of the film, it made more sense to ignore the predictable main plot and to take refuge in the well-choreographed antics of this coolly witty trio. Never mind Gere and Roberts: shouldn’t someone in Hollywood find a script in which to showcase these tragically underutilized talents?

The Runaway Bride, to borrow a line from Mr. Carpenter, isn’t the fastest-running film emerging this summer, but it will certainly be one of the longest-running.

Click here to read Cynthia Fuch's or Gregory Avery's reviews.

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