Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Forces of Nature (1999) DVD

I hate people who sing 1000 Green Bottles on long journeys too

There’s something to be said about a movie that mixes Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Runaway Bride. In other words, this is a road movie consisting of a soon-to-be-married man rushing off to his wedding, while getting stuck with a travel companion (who obviously has to be of an opposite personality type) in a long list of travel accidents that delay his arrival at the chapel, and giving him a bad case of pre-wedding jitters.

Let’s introduce the players in this comedy genre mash-up. The straight man is Ben (Ben Affleck), an unadventurous, by-the-books copywriter (he writes the blurbs on the backs of book jackets) who is so strait-laced, he can’t even enjoy a little bit of naughtiness during his own bachelor party. The companion on his long, winding and probably cursed journey – the forces of nature induce breakdowns in any plane, train or automobile they choose to get from New York to Savannah – is Sarah (Sandra Bullock), who is somewhere between “trailer park white trash” and “wild child” in the Natural Disaster Travelling Companion rating scheme.

He’s uptight and bland as vanilla, she’s a little loopy and unburdened with social norms. He’s dreadfully boring and induces nausea in people by incessantly crowing about the impending marriage and showing all and sundry neoprints of him and his fiancé. She’s unpredictable, fascinating, full of fun and optimism, and an advocate of free love. When he’s trapped with her for the entirety of the trip, we want to know: Do they kill each other before reaching Savannah? Will Ben learn to loosen up, and Sarah learn to confront whatever it is she seems to be running away from? Will the assortment of crazy characters (and their horror stories of failed marriages) Ben and Sarah meet on their road trip totally turn Ben off the idea of marriage? Will Ben fall in love with Sarah and run off in extramarital bliss (okay, an exaggeration since he’s not married yet), leaving his beautiful bride (Maura Tierney) at the altar?

Even though Sandra Bullock hit a home run with Miss Congeniality a year later, Forces of Nature still has several things going for it. Despite the almost stock genre roots of this movie, the script by Marc Lawrence is anything but predictable. The comedy isn’t strictly for laughs; there are dark edges lining the entire film, almost veering it occasionally into the direction of pitch-black comedy and satire. The cinematography and editing are stunning, and I haven’t seen such arresting and beautiful depictions of clouds, sunsets, hailstorms and hurricanes outside of paintings.

My only quibble with this movie is twofold. Marc Lawrence can’t make up his mind whether he wants a straight romantic comedy or a dark comedy and satire on marriage. As a result, the script feels a tad uneven and unsatisfying as it tries to balance between the demands of two opposing sets of comic sensibilities and demands on how to resolve the plot. The chemistry between Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock is a non-starter as well - due to the script or the personal qualities of the stars, I cannot say.

Overall, though, Forces of Nature is impossible to ignore because of the risks Lawrence takes with his script, and his refusal to write an easy, predictable romantic comedy.

First published at incinemas on 11 July 2006

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