Posted: Sunday, December 17, 2000

Sometimes you go to the movies looking to laugh and sometimes you go to cry. It's an old cliche, but one that actually rings true. Too often however, the studios take that literally, and all you're left with is a big mess ala Pay It Forward. Bounce is one case where they got it right.

From the ads, it looks like this is a light romance starring the are-they-aren't-they Hollywood it-couple Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck. It's a romance alright, but I wouldn't call it light. This movie is hard. This isn't one of those movies where you're supposed to cry because Bobby stood Susie up for the prom. No, if you cry here it's because these people are going through something agonizing.

Affleck plays Buddy Amaral, a high-powered ad executive at the top of his game. He's a salesman extraordinaire, a born closer, and he knows it. At O'Hare Airport in Chicago he meets Greg Janello, a writer on his way home to LA for Christmas. They strike up a conversation and we find out that Greg is on standby and may not make it home in time help his son sell Christmas trees for school. Buddy, in a moment of self-serving samaritanism (he sees a chance for a one-night stand with a woman he met in the airport bar) gives Greg his first-class ticket, ensuring he'll make it home in time. The plane goes down, and so does Buddy. Down into drink, depression, and finally rehab. He decides to check in on Greg's widow Abby, to somehow make amends, and that's where the story really starts.

Affleck is very good as Buddy. We see him go through a Jerry Maguire-esque reevaluation of his priorities, with some crushing guilt thrown in. Gwyneth is equally good as Abby. She's sweet, tough, and fragile all at once. The scenes where she waits to find out if Greg was, in fact, on the plane are heart-breaking. She has become the master of the quivering lip, tear-filled stare, but somehow she keeps it out of the suicidal chipmunk arena that Haley Joel Osment inhabits.

One nice thing about this movie was that I felt like I could see a light at the end of the tunnel for these people. As time goes on, things can get better. I was reminded of the great Fearless, with Jeff Bridges as a plane crash survivor. The emotions that people who have been involved in a devastating event experience are overpowering. But with time and support, the hurt can fade. Also nice is that this movie, though it does hit you hard with the tragedy, doesn't drown you in it. It's nowhere near as manipulative as Pay It Forward, and twice as effective.

Abby has two boys, and a lesser movie would have exploited either their cuteness or their sadness. Bounce walks a fine line, and stays on track. The kid angle is important, but it's not the whole story. The filmmakers keep the story fairly lean. Though the third act is a little cliched and overplayed, overall the writers avoided unnecessary plot twists and surprises. This is the story of two people who find each other while going through some really hard times, and that's enough.

My recommendation would be to get out and see this movie pretty quick. This was supposed to be one of Miramax's big Oscar cash cows, but it's not doing the business they expected and it's going to be bouncing out of theaters pretty quickly. Guys, don't worry, it's not a chick-flick. I know it has a picture of Gwyneth Paltrow looking doe-eyed on the poster, but don't let that scare you off. It's a romantic-drama about a plane crash. There's not one beauty parlor scene, and no slow dancing. Bounce is one of those rare Hollywood weepers that doesn't leave you feeling like you've been through the emotional meat grinder just for the sake of big box office. Instead, it's a small, sweet glimpse into the lives of people falling down and trying to bounce back. Grade: A-

Bounce is rated PG-13 for language and adult situations.


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