Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Return to Me

By Marjorie Baumgarten

APRIL 10, 2000: 

D: Bonnie Hunt; with David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, Carroll O'Connor, Robert Loggia, David Alan Grier, Joely Richardson, James Belushi, Bonnie Hunt. (PG, 116 min.)

What are the odds? A woman (Richardson), a crusading bookkeeper, dies, and her organs are harvested. Her desolate and grief-stricken husband (Duchovny) throws himself into his work (building the gorilla habitat that was his wife's life mission), but when he does fall in love again it happens to be with the waitress (Driver) who coincidentally received his wife's donated heart. It's a story whose arteries are clogged with enough hooey to cause angina-like symptoms ­ or at least unwelcome flashbacks to the Christian Slater/Marisa Tomei weeper Untamed Heart, a love story between a gorilla-heart transplantee and a sympathetic waitress. Yet Return to Me is infused with enough infectious charm to make us forget how dopey the plot is and become swept up in its breezy countenance. Engaging comic actress Bonnie Hunt debuts as a film director here with a script she co-authored with longtime creative collaborator Don Lake. Whatever that intangible is that has made her gentle wisecracking so memorable in such films as the shaggy-dog Beethoven opus and Jerry Maguire, Hunt also brings to this new effort. She also appears in a small "best friend" role and, again, gives herself the honor of delivering many of the film's most memorable lines. Duchovny and Driver affect a decent screen chemistry, which, although not overwhelming, wins the viewers' confidence in the correctness of this pair overcoming the odds and sharing their hearts. Return to Me chooses not to dwell on the thornier emotional issues of a new love walking around with an old love's heart; the struggle is dealt with off-screen. The most engaging thing about Return to Me is its atmosphere: filmed lovingly in Hunt's hometown of Chicago (by Laszlo Kovacs), much of the story is also set in O'Reilly's ­ an Italian bar and restaurant. The melting-pot restaurant is presided over by the waitress/transplantee's grandfather, who is played with colorful gusto by Carroll O'Connor. He and his card-playing buddies form a sweetly comical Greek chorus of old-timers who observe and comment on the young lovers. Ultimately, Return to Me'stransplantations of old romantic storylines do not really provide the genre with a new lease on life, but it most definitely keeps them ticking for a few more decades.

2.5 Stars

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