Rated PG - Running Time: 1:53 - Released 4/7/00

Everyone knows how badly David Duchovny has been wanting to ditch his X-Files gig; he talks about it openly, and the only reason he stayed for the current season is that he cut a deal for an obscene salary increase. And one can understand why an actor would want to escape from a long-running TV show to explore his capacity for playing other roles; we have all seen many actors typecast forever in the parts they played on the boob tube. Duchovny has chosen wisely in testing the feature-film waters; his inclusion in Bonnie Hunt's Return To Me, alongside such talents as Minnie Driver and Carroll O'Connor, not to mention director/producer Hunt herself, will do nothing to harm his audience appreciation ratings. It's a finely crafted romance written by Hunt, with some help, and could easily be another cheap tear-jerker were it not for her skill as a director and the cast's ability to form meaningful relationships. Duchovny and Driver click well together (I have never seen her fail), and Hunt, O'Connor, James Belushi, and David Alan Grier add nice counterpoint as supporting characters.

Duchovny is Bob Rueland, a Chicago building contractor whose most important project is designing an expanded ape habitat for the Lincoln Park Zoo, where his wife Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) is the primate specialist. When a tragic accident takes her life, his resolve to finish the facility becomes even stronger. At the same time as Elizabeth's death, heart disease patient Grace Briggs (Driver) is waiting for a transplant donor. Grace is the granddaughter of Marty O'Reilly (O'Connor), an Irish immigrant who, along with friend Angelo (Robert Loggia), runs the only Irish-Italian restaurant in town. Grace serves as the establishment's only waitress. About a year after the accident, Bob is taken on a double date with Charlie (Grier), the zoo's resident veterinarian. Although the date doesn't turn out well, it takes Bob to O'Reilly's, where he meets Grace, and the two hit it off instantly.

Soon they are dating, and although Grace is deathly afraid to tell him about her surgery ("everyone who finds out about it treats me like I'm broken"), their relationship develops into something deeper and more important than either of them expected. While Bob continues work on the Elizabeth Rueland Memorial Ape Habitat, he becomes friendly with Grace's entire family and her best friend Megan (Hunt) and Megan's husband (Belushi). Then, just when she's about to summon the courage to tell Bob about her transplant, she makes a discovery that threatens to jeopardize their life together.

Teary romances are not my favorite genre, but Return To Me is proof that with thoughtful direction and sincere performances, it can be done right. Hunt's story (co-written by Don Lake, Andrew Stern, and Samantha Goodman) is certainly not unpredictable, but with performances like these, its few flaws can be forgiven. Driver is a superior actress, emanating the easy quality she has shown in other, drastically different characterizations I've seen her in. It seems that regardless of whether she's taking part in an quirky thriller (Grosse Pointe Blank), a period drama (An Ideal Husband), or a romance (Good Will Hunting), she can appear utterly without pretense. And Hunt is the same way; her capacity for simple reality is astounding. O'Connor, managing a thick Irish brogue, is characteristically excellent as the devout father figure, and Hunt's direction of him with Loggia and the rest is spot-on. Duchovny shows the ability to stand with the excellence that surrounds him, and Richardson is also notable in her short part as his doomed wife. ****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive