Charisma versus clichÉsBy Teresa Huang
Directed by Garry Marshall
Written by Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon
Starring Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Joan Cusack, Hector Elizondo, Rita Wilson
In 1990, an up-and-coming actress named Julia Roberts was cast opposite seasoned actor Richard Gere in a romantic comedy about a hooker with a heart of gold who transformed a bored rich lawyer into Prince Charming incarnate. The story was romantic, enchanting, and featured a fairy tale ending that sent single women everywhere into hysterics. The movie was Pretty Woman and the director was Garry Marshall.
Nine long years later, when Touchstone Pictures announced that Richard Gere and Julia Roberts would be reuniting for another Garry Marshall film, Runaway Bride, the question was not if the chemistry still worked, but if people still cared. Since Pretty Woman was released, many more romantic comedy landmarks have been made. And a formula that worked the first time around doesn’t necessarily work the second time.
Surprisingly enough, it’s the sparkling chemistry between Gere and Roberts that saves Runaway Bride from drowning in sappiness. While the stars of the recent You’ve Got Mail failed to recapture the romance that made them famous, Gere and Roberts shine on screen, affirming themselves as one of the more successful screen duos of the 90’s.
And that’s a good thing for the film, since the setup is riddled with enough movie clichÉs to make a person sick. New York City is a sea of gray buildings, taxi cabs, and endless construction sites. The small town characterization is especially painful. A barbershop quartet sings relentlessly in the town square while the kids ride ponies to the five-and-dime store. The mayor and the police sheriff get together and jam on their guitar and harmonica.
The characters are also all caricatures. Gere plays Ike Graham, a newspaper columnist writing a story about the infamous Maggie Carpenter, played by Roberts, who has left a string of fiancÉs at the altar. Ike is the typical New Yorker, meaning he’s addicted to coffee, walks and talks into his sleek cell phone, and is close friends with the husband of his former wife. He’s such a brilliant writer that an hour before deadline, he can get an idea and spin something that’s worthy of USA Today. I should be so lucky.
Julia Roberts is Maggie Carpenter, the typical small-town girl, meaning she wears a cowboy hat, drives a truck, and runs the family business, a hardware store specializing in antique fixtures. Joan Cusack is fantastic as Peggy, Maggie’s best friend since high school, who runs the one and only hair and nail salon in the town.
Yet despite all the reasons we see to dismiss this as just another romantic comedy, the chemistry between Gere and Roberts captivates and charms you the same way it did nine years ago. While the film addresses the conflict at the core of the story -- Maggie’s habit of running from the altar and the town’s inability to forgive her -- the objective is really to get Gere and Roberts together again. Even though the story gives Maggie a fiancÉ, played with gusto by Christopher Meloni (TV’s Oz), it’s inevitable that she’ll run away from him into Ike’s waiting arms. The foreplay runs a little long, but the reward is worth the wait. And unlike Pretty Woman, Runaway Bride takes a beautiful twist when the movie doesn’t end with the fairy tale ending, but deals with the reality of Maggie’s penchant for running.
The actual romance isn’t bogged down by sappiness and is surprisingly light and carefree, due mainly to the effortless charm exuded by both Roberts and Gere. Julia Roberts once again works her incredible power to invoke emotion in the audience. We smile when she smiles, we want to cry when she looks hurt. As for Richard Gere, we’ve all but forgotten about his success as a romantic lead. His last and only comedic role was in Pretty Woman. Though the audience may feel a bit uncomfortable at first watching him walk the line between smugness and arrogance, he eventually grows on you and the magic starts working.
There are couples that stand out in film history as natural partners on screen, including Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and even Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Hollywood has been desperately seeking the power pair of the 90’s to produce a new age of partner films. Perhaps Richard Gere and Julia Roberts are the chosen ones.