Reviewed by: Matthew Prins
Let me ruin the plot for you: the characters played by Julia Roberts and Richard Gere get together by the end of “Runaway Bride”. At first they don’t like each other, but then they do, but then they have to split up, but then they happily get back together. If you feel violated that I’ve given away this bit of information, you’ve obviously never seen a romantic comedy. They may be set in different locales, have characters with different quirks, keep the guy and the girl away in different unique ways, but if you bite down to the core, romantic comedies all use the exact same plot structure. (Yes, yes, I’m quite aware that Roberts' flick “My Best Friend’s Wedding” doesn’t follow the pattern, but can you think of another? I thought not.) In fact, one of the reasons why romantic comedies are so popular is because they’re safe since the audience already has a gut feeling what’s going to happen.
So when judging romantic comedies, there’s one important question: how much fun did we have getting to the inevitable conclusion? And “Runaway Bride”, no matter what other problems it has, is often quite fun. Some of the better scenes border on the just-too-corny side, but they still work: Roberts' character’s first, hippie wedding seen on videotape; a haircut Gere’s character gets just after his arrival in Roberts' character’s hometown; two apartment break-ins for devious purposes; and a throwaway line about UPS. The script, written by the team that did “Three Men and a Little Lady”, is better than it has any right to be considering their track record.
But what makes the film work (when it does work) is the chemistry between Gere and Roberts. Their chemistry was the only thing holding together the overpraised “Pretty Woman”; here, they steal the show. It’s unexplainable why Roberts and Gere work so well together when, in the recent “Notting Hill”, Roberts and Hugh Grant had no romantic energy between them. But let’s face a truth: they do seem completely right for each other, despite any personality conflicts and age difference. And as funny as romantic comedies can often be, the adjective is just as important as the noun.
Other than the nothing-we-can-really-do-about-it plot, the biggest aspect holding down “Runaway Bride” is Director Garry Marshall. In films like “East of Eden” and “The Other Sister”, Marshall has been criticized for being heavy-handed and manipulative, and there are shades of that kind of control here. There is a particularly grating scene toward the end of the movie where Roberts' character and her fiancée are at a wedding rehearsal, and Gere’s character is needed to stand in for the groom. The symbolism should be painfully obvious to anyone, but Marshall nudges us in the ribs by having one of the characters mention this symbolism to us, to make sure we didn’t miss it. If Marshall had taken a more subtle approach, this movie could have been one of the better recent romantic comedies; instead, it remains rather average.
“Runaway Bride” gets its PG rating because it chooses to tell rather than show sexual situations; instead of premarital sex and nudity broadcast on the screen, the characters simply talk about loss of virginity and normally covered body parts. (Much of the talk comes from one of Hollywood’s favorite stock characters: the foul-mouthed elderly woman, more subdued here than usual.) There is also some other foul language. With its treatment of sex and its occasional use of course language, “Runaway Bride” is as appropriate for Christians and children as TV's “Friends” and “Frasier”; those who are unhappy with the content of such programs will face similar emotions watching “Runaway Bride”.