Movie Review By Heather Clisby
Based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks, "Message in a Bottle" is a romantic gut-wrencher involving more pre-destiny love - a favorite theme for the (ahem) upcoming red-hearted holiday.
Starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman, the story begins with Penn's character, Theresa, a divorced single mom who works as a researcher at the Chicago Tribune. On a solo vacation, she runs along the beach and finds a message in a bottle. Written by a lonely man to his dead wife, the letter's heartfelt sentiments and honest pain intrigue her. Cloaking her curiosity as a work project, she sets out to meet the author.
Her quest leads to a tiny island off the North Carolina coast where she finds Garret Blake, a sailboat builder living a solitary life. There is an immediate attraction but the ghost of his dead wife, Catherine, is everywhere and Theresa can't bring herself to confess her secret knowledge of his pain.
I love the way this film wormed its way into my crusty heart, mostly, by letting the characters demonstrate real awkwardness. Both Garret and Theresa have been out of the loop for a while and it shows, particularly on her; it's always endearing to watch a beautiful woman fumble around and be insecure.
There's a lot of far-fetchedness in this flick but I swallowed it all. The script generally shies away from the diluted Hollywood formula and goes for the emotional jugular. The ending, in fact, may kill this film at the box office; I heard the preview crowd re-writing it as they were leaving the building.
Paul Newman, always a treat, is Dodge, Garret's father, who tries desperately to pull his son out of extended grief. In one scene, Dodge screams the bald truth at Garret and it's worth every penny just to see Newman's neck veins bulging and those blue eyes blazing in pain. Costner takes the less-is-more approach and comes through with a fine performance. They're a good team - who knew?
Directed by Luis Mandoki, the film subtlety demonstrates the lovers' longshot chances at a realistic relationship by comparing their daily lives. Theresa's hectic urban existence is a stark contrast to the sea-faring secludedness of Garret's quiet life. On the city train, he's a fish-out-of-water; on a boat, she feels in the way. How is this supposed to work?
Penn steals the show as a vulnerable woman who takes a chance out of a driven need to fill a void. Both characters are paralyzed by fear of putting their heart on the line and they should be. There is nothing tidy about this film - it is painful and sexy, misleading and charming, sweet and tormenting. I didn't cry in the theatre, I waited until I got home.
© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 2/10/99
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