In Mirimax Picture's "Bounce," an admittedly extraordinary circumstance
becomes the catalyst for a story about ordinary people living ordinary
lives and being all the more extraordinary for that. Far from being
yet another "chick-flick" romance, "Bounce" is a movie that explores
how guilt and love and friendship and kindness and betrayal and fear
can all intertwine and how average people respond to the randomness
of life and chance. It is, in short, an outstanding movie that is
refreshingly free of the cliches that normally burden romances of this type.
The story revolves around Buddy Amaral (Ben Affleck), a jet setting
ad executive who, in order to get a one sight stand with fellow passenger
Mimi Praeger (Natasha Henstridge), gives his airplane ticket to Greg
Janello, a TV writer and failed playwrite who is anxious to get home
to his wife, Abby (Gweneth Paltro) and sons Joey and Scott, played
by David Dorfmann and Alex Linz, respectively. When the plane that
Buddy was supposed to fly on subsequently crashes, killing all including
Greg, Buddy is overwhelmed with guilt and descends into alcoholism.
After spending time in rehab, Buddy decides that he must make amends
to Greg's family and arranges for Abby, now working as a struggling
real estate agent, to sell Buddy's advertising agency new offices.
Buddy and Abby fall in love, but he cannot bring himself to tell
her the truth. At that point, Mimi has a chance meeting with Abby,
who discovers Buddy's secret.
Notwithstanding a somewhat contrived situation, "Bounce" succeeds
because its characters are multidimensional and very human. Buddy
and Abby are attractive people because they are real people that the
audience wants to get to know. Buddy is a hot shot at the start of
the movie, but he is also vulnerable and lonely and desperate to be
liked. Abbey is the grieving widow, but she is also an attentive
mother, a suburban housewife and a working mother who has to support
two young children but is not sure, even a year after her husband's
death, that she can do it. What is more, both are wracked by guilt
caused by a situation that they could not predict or control, but
that has radically changed their lives.
Make no mistake, Abby and Buddy are not the traditional Hollywood
romantic movie heroes. These are not characters who start out flawed
and whose romance redeems them from their sins. Yet both of these
characters are striving to overcome their flaws. Not in the typical
"run away to find yourself" soul searching Hollywood way, but rather
in the little every day ways of their growing love.
This is powerful stuff because screenwriter/director Don Roos has
avoided the snappy dialogue and corny speeches that make most Hollywood
romantic characters seem inauthentic. Rather, Roos makes them human
and therefore sympathetic. When Abby fails to understand a joke that
Buddy makes, the audience can laugh with her because they've been
the ones who have missed the joke. When Buddy struggles to tell his
secret, the audience can sympathize with his struggle because they
have sometimes had trouble telling the truth.
As for the acting, Paltrow puts in an absolutely riveting performance.
She deftly avoids the cliché of the happy widow or the tough mom.
She makes Abby a totally believable character whose pain is real
to the audience, but whose understated courage calls for admiration.
In this movie, Paltrow masters a character that could easily have
become a one dimensional caricature, but instead takes on real flesh
and blood characteristics.
Typically, Ben Affleck's performance does not get quite the rave reviews
that his co-star and former real life girlfriend gets. However, this
is very unfair. For while Paltrow avoids the pitfall of making her
character into a cliché, Affleck has the harder job because his character's
motivations are less straightforward. Buddy vulnerabilities are harder
to define, harder to see and his guilt is more complex than Abby's.
For where she feels guilty because her last words to her husband
were made in hasty argument, Buddy's guilt is strictly speaking unwarranted.
He did a man a favor and random chance saved Buddy's life. Yet Buddy's
guilt is real, and is perhaps more rooted in the emptiness he feels
in his life and in his sense that the frivolousness of his actions
were repaid in tragedy for another.
Affleck conveys this brilliantly and in subtle ways. When a flight
attendant spurns Buddy's advances, he looks both amused and baffled
and genuinely hurt. When Abby mentions Greg's name after having just
clinched the real estate deal that Buddy threw her way, Buddy looks
hurt and disappointed in spite of himself. When Abby finally confronts
Buddy about his secret, the pain is palpable but restrained. He tears
up, his voice cracks as he says good bye and asks for forgiveness,
but he does not gush or create the emotional scene that is normally
requisite in a Hollywood romance. This is emotionally complex stuff
and Affleck deserves credit for what is surely the best performance of his entire career.
As to the rest of the cast, their work is stupendous. Johnny Galecki
as Seth, Buddy's gay assistant is brilliant, more than compensating
for fact that his character is a sort of glorified Jimminy Cricket.
Tony Goldwyn is instantly likeable as Greg, as is Natasha Henstridge
as Mimi. David Dorfman and Alex Linz are also quite good as Abby's
sons. One only wishes that there had been more time to develop the
relationship between Buddy and the boys. Fortunately, what the audience
does see is both believable and touching.
"Bounce" is an emotionally compelling without bludgeoning its audience.
Although there are a few plot contrivances that do not quite ring
true, this is more than compensated for by characters that are real
and sympathetic. At the start of the film Buddy asks, "Am I that
much of a cliché?" No he is not, and that is what makes "Bounce"
such a moving and human story.
Copyright © 2002 James E. Geoffrey II