Runaway Bride

Runaway Bride (1999)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere
Extras: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailer, Music Video

Let me start by saying that I’m not a fan of "Pretty Woman" and I’ve never liked Julia Roberts very much. However, I loved "Notting Hill", so I tried to go into "Runaway Bride" with an open mind. I had no illusions, mind you. I knew that this was going to be a light, Hollywood romance. But, things turned out to be a little different than I’d expected.

"Runaway Bride" opens in New York City, where we meet Ike Graham (Richard Gere). Graham is a columnist for USA Today (whose logo is plastered all over this movie) and is controversial due to his views on women and relationships. While struggling for a story idea, he meets a man in a bar who relates the tale of the "runaway bride" — a woman in Maryland who has been to the altar seven times, only to dash away at the last minute. Graham likes this idea and writes a column on it, using the woman’s real name — Maggie Carpenter.

The film then shifts to Hale, Maryland, where we meet Maggie (Julia Roberts) and her best friend Peggy Flemming — not the skater! (Joan Cusack). Maggie reads the article and fires off a letter to USA Today, pointing out the inaccuracies of the article and threatening legal action. Because of this, Ike is fired. Seeking retribution, Ike goes to Hale to meet Maggie and find out what she is really like. Maggie is to be married (her fourth actual attempt) and Ike submerges himself into her wedding plans in order to get to know the real Maggie. While the town accepts Ike, Maggie views him as a scheming reporter and doesn’t trust him. As Maggie’s wedding day approaches, the town waits to see if she’ll go through with it, while Ike hopes that he will get a great news story.

"Runaway Bride" is well-acted and nicely shot by director Gary Marshall, who does a fine job of capturing the beautiful local scenery. The problem lies in the story. From the very beginning, the film is filled with unbelievable events. Would a columnist write this story without checking the facts? Would the paper fire him without checking out Maggie’s side of the story? Would the townspeople openly accept the man who publicly humiliated one of their own? During the last forty minutes of the film, things roll along nicely and most of these discrepancies can be put to the side, but they definitely hurt the film. I realize the suspension of disbelief is necessary for some films, but my arm got tired from holding my disbelief up for so long.

The other big problem with the film is that it doesn’t inspire much of a response from the viewer. It’s not particularly moving, nor is it very funny. For me, part of this stemmed from the characters themselves. It’s really a challenge to like the two main characters, Ike and Maggie. Unlike the "hooker with the heart of gold" and the "cold businessman" from "Pretty Woman", these are two people who should be likable. Ike is brash and obnoxious, and the only reason for this that we are given is that he’s from New York. Thank you for that stereotype, we’ve never seen that before. So, in the scenes where Ike is tender and understanding, he seems like a totally different character. With Maggie, we never learn any of the motivations behind her actions. It’s obvious that her character is confused, but she shouldn’t come across as confusing.

While the characters are underwritten, most of the actors turn in good performances. Gere seems very comfortable as Ike, as despite the script’s attempts to quell it, he comes across as likable. Roberts is a little more subdued than usual, and thus, more believable. But, I really could’ve done without the platypus gag. And I’m not even going to get started with the Gere/Roberts age difference. The always-enjoyable Paul Dooley is great as Maggie’s dad. As usual, Joan Cusack is hilarious. She’s become the comedy relief pitcher for Hollywood films.

The Paramount DVD of "Runaway Bride" presents the film in a <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. The picture appears to be accurately framed, as there is no deficit of visual information at the top or bottom of the screen. The picture is very clear and offers a fantastic view of the colorful scenery that I mentioned earlier. The audio on the DVD is a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> mix that comes across well-balanced. Dialogues are very present and never muddy, but the volume coming from on the rear speakers is minimal. This is kind of film where I found myself putting my ear to the rear speaker just to confirm that it was still working.

The DVD offers three bonus features. There is the theatrical trailer, which is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1, and a video for the Dixie Chicks’ song "Ready to Run". Then there is an <$commentary,audio commentary> by director Gary Marshall, which is very entertaining. Marshall is very laid-back in his approach and offers many nice anecdotes about the making of the film. As he is well-acquainted with Gere and Roberts, he relates many stories about them as well.

While I won’t say that you should run away from "Runaway Bride", one should definitely approach it cautiously. It’s a romantic-comedy that offers little of either. I would recommend seeing "Notting Hill" first.