Bounce (United States, 2000)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Bounce delivers exactly what viewers expect from a romance: two people who meet under unusual circumstances fall in love, then are pushed apart by complications before finding each other again. There are no surprises, twists, or unexpected turns of plot. This is the kind of film where the characters travel along a pre-determined path from Point A to Point B, with the finish line visible from the moment the two stars are named in the opening credits. The only tangents are those allowed by the laws of screen romances. Nevertheless, while all of that may make for a predictable movie-going experience, it doesn't necessarily make for unpleasant one. Bounce is actually a decent romance with three things going for it. In the first place, Don Roos' dialogue is a cut above the norm. Secondly, stars Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow connect in a credible manner. Finally, the film touches on a few intriguing philosophical issues, such as the guilt an individual feels when someone close to him or her unexpectedly dies.

The setup is not complicated. It's a few days before Christmas and a group of strangers is stranded at a bar in Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Buddy (Ben Affleck), an ad man, has a first-class ticket back to Los Angeles. Mimi (Natasha Henstridge) has been forced to take a room at the airport hotel because her flight has been canceled. And Greg (Tony Goldwyn) has allowed himself to be bumped from an L.A.-bound flight in order to get two free round-trip tickets to anywhere in the U.S. plus $200. So he's waiting for a spot to open up on a later flight. However, when Mimi makes it clear to Buddy that she wouldn't mind it if he shared her hotel room, he gives his ticket to Greg. Hours later, Flight 82 from Chicago to Los Angeles has crashed and Greg is dead, leaving behind a wife, Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow) and two children (Alex D. Linz and David Dorfman).

It takes Buddy a year and a stay in an alcohol rehab clinic before he can overcome his feelings of guilt and re-emerge into the real world. One of his first actions is to seek out Abby. Even though he has never met her, he feels responsible for her circumstances and wants to make sure she's okay. She's working as a real estate agent and he pretends to be a client. After arranging for his company to buy an expensive property through her, Buddy believes he has paid his karmic debt. But Abby is attracted to him, and keeps contriving ways to meet him. Before long, Buddy finds himself falling in love - not only with Abby, but with her kids as well. And, as this relationship transforms him from a self-serving hotshot into a caring individual, he is aware that, sometime, somewhere, his secret must emerge.

When someone young and vital dies unexpectedly, the people around the deceased individual often suffer pangs of guilt. They blame themselves with a litany of "if only"s. In a situation like that, almost anyone can think of something they could have done (or not done) that would have prevented the tragedy. While Bounce does not delve deeply into these issues, it offers a situation which demands that each of three characters confronts his or her misplaced sense of responsibility for a capricious act of fate. Abby, Buddy, and Scott (Abby's oldest son) share this uncomfortable bond, and each faces the feelings differently. Abby and Scott sublimate their guilt while Buddy tries to expiate his through a material gift.

While the screenplay for Bounce has a little more heft than that of the average multiplex love story, it's not immediately recognizable as the work of Roos, who wrote and directed the biting, offbeat The Opposite of Sex. Roos has gone mainstream here, and, as a direct consequence, the edge is gone. The dialogue may not glitter, but it is well-written and avoids the trap of glibness. Roos studiously avoids contrived, clich├ęd lines and characters occasionally say things that are witty and intelligent. Roos' direction is competent, but, in order to attract a wide audience and appease the people holding the money pouch, he has turned in a conventional motion picture. Is that a bad thing? No, provided your expectations are properly calibrated.

Bounce features two of Miramax's most popular regulars: Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. (It seems that every in-house Miramax production stars Affleck, Paltrow, Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, or a combination of those names.) For the role of Buddy, Affleck limits his smart-alecky tendencies (at least after the first 15 minutes), resulting in an affable portrayal. As Abby, Paltrow tones down the glamour and beauty, making her look more like the single mother than the muse who inspired Shakespeare. Together, these two click, exuding the on-screen chemistry that is vital to the success of a movie like this. We like these two and want them to be together.

Effective romances are difficult to craft. They must be sentimental and endearing without going overboard. Low-key love stories run the risk of coming across as cold and unemotional. Conversely, going too far in the other direction can result in a cloying, mawkish production. Roos has landed safely on the middle ground. He gives us characters worth caring about and a situation we can feel comfortable with. For Miramax Films, Bounce's distributor, this represents another step towards becoming another Hollywood production factory. Once, not that long ago, Miramax specialized in releasing daring, independent fare. Now, they rarely take a risk. Bounce fits the new Miramax profile. It's an enjoyable motion picture, but it's about as safe a gamble as any distributor could take this Fall.

Bounce (United States, 2000)

Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2000-11-17
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1