Reviewed in November 2000
Director: Don Roos. Cast: Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow, Joe Morton, Johnny Galecki, Caroline Aaron, Tony Goldwyn, Natasha Henstridge, Alex D. Linz, David Dorfman. Screenplay: Don Roos.

Photo © 2000 Miramax Films
Don Roos' Bounce features two major characters, one who is sad and very likeable, and one who is sad and very unlikeable. For reasons known only to him, or perhaps also to Ben Affleck's agent, Roos chooses to devote most of the film to the cad. I should admit early on that I enjoy watching Gwyneth Paltrow act, because I think she can really do it, and I dread the very sight of Ben Affleck, because I am dubious of his talent and tired of his smug mug. The fact that I didn't care for Bounce, specifically because I didn't want Paltrow's character to go anywhere near Affleck's, could conceivably stem from sheer personality prejudice. Then again, despite Paltrow's interesting performance and Roos' admirable restraint as a writer, Bounce is structurally and romantically a mess. No matter what you think of the stars, I doubt this movie is going to work for a lot of people, because it offers us a distasteful scenario and an unappealing protagonist and then wildly overreaches trying to win our hearts.

The first sequence in Bounce flops badly, which is particularly costly because everything else in the movie hinges on this incident. Buddy Amaral (Affleck), a hot-shot advertising exec, is stuck in an airport lounge with dozens of other travelers trying to fly out of Chicago on a snowy night. He's buying drinks for a beautiful blonde named Mimi (Natasha Henstridge, of Species) and hamming it up for her Camcorder, even after a more subdued man, a struggling playwright named Greg Janello, joins them at their table. By the time Buddy's alternative flight is set to leave, he's convinced Mimi to go to bed with him, so he gives his ticket to Greg, who wants to get home to his wife and two young sons in Los Angeles. Buddy wakes up from his one-night stand to find out that Greg died along with every other passenger on Infinity Flight #82, which exploded over a Kansas cornfield. A strong case of survivor guilt exacerbates Buddy's existing drinking problem, and after making terribly insensitive remarks about the casualties at an industry function, he checks into alcohol rehab.

The first major problem with these exposition scenes is that Buddy isn't just cocky, he's crude; he isn't just a drunk and a braggart, but he is pointedly ungracious in his early conversations with sweet old Greg, and he mocks his colleagues at the ad agency for wishing to express their condolence to the families of the crash victims. I had no interest in seeing Buddy recover from his problems, because he wasn't just acting badly in a difficult circumstance. He was already a jerk before the crash, and I didn't want to know anything about him. Worse, Roos cross-cuts occasionally during this sequence, but not very much, to Abby Janello (Paltrow), Greg's wife, who learns through an awkward, complicated process of her husband's death. In other words, I resented Buddy all the more because his antics kept taking the film away from a character who seemed much more sympathetic, and in whom my interest and emotional investment were immediately much higher.

Bounce tries long and hard to make Buddy deserving of Abby, but it never gets there. When Buddy tracks Abby down a year after the catastrophe, intending only to see whether she and her sons have fared okay, he is a kinder, gentler Buddy, but I still didn't care about him. True, he helps the unsuspecting Abby, a fledging realtor, land a plum contract with his company, and it is she, not Buddy, who makes the decisive moves in initiating a romance. Paltrow is such a natural actress, and Roos is capable of such natural dialogue, that I was rooting for Abby despite my lack of enthusiasm for her love object. The actress's best moments include the phone conversation when Buddy offers her the realty contract—"This is her um, . . . she?" she stammers, with believable self-conscious confusion—and when she bravely asks him on a date to a Dodgers game after a year of mourning her husband, whom she tells Buddy she divorced. Abby tries very hard, and Paltrow honors that effort, to permit herself new steps toward happiness, to be honest about her feelings even as she disguises their sources, and to be patient with the bewildered anger of her sons after Greg's death. She even plans to take the boys on a short flight to Palm Springs, just so the boys can conquer their new fear of aircraft and land in a fun locale.

With complete inappropriateness that the film fails to notice, or to care about, Buddy invites himself along for this jaunt, reconfirming my notions that he doesn't really understand what the Janellos went through, and are still going through. I risk being glib myself in admitting that Buddy seemed to me like another disaster looming on Abby's horizon. Perhaps I am fondly protective of any woman who will watch any movie except "anything with knives, snakes, or women forced to go undercover as hookers." Anyway, when Abby eventually discovers Buddy's secret, as we realize she must—for one thing, no screenplay conjures a Camcorder if it doesn't want the videotape to surface—Roos writes an impressively tense scene in which Abby tosses Buddy from her house. But afterward, Bounce resumes its doomed, weirdly desperate project of making Buddy Amaral seem like a prize catch.

Why bother, I wondered? Bounce could have saved itself a lot of effort, either by refraining from making Buddy quite so coarse in the early scenes, or by casting an actor more experienced with playing subtle emotions and vulnerability. Affleck, whatever his virtues, is not famous for melting humility, and too much of his macho self-regard seeps into his performance even when he gamely tries to fold his tail between his legs. He simply isn't the right actor for the part, though few actors on the planet could withstand the needless melodrama Roos inflicts on Bounce with a legal subplot that heads straight for goopy, teary-eyed speechifying.

But even if Buddy had been better written, or better played, what does Bounce really have to offer? It occasionally wants to say something about the lies lovers tell each other, but Abby's self-protective fibs are so different from Buddy's extended charade that their any comparison or conflation of the two feels misguided. Roos also seems bent on presenting a romance between young actors that isn't a comedy and doesn't hide behind irony, and I agree that we could use more films like that. But admiring a movie's intentions is not the same as appreciating the movie itself, and Bounce falls notably short of its worthy ambitions.

The best way to handle this material, I think, would be a story about a young widow who learns not only to search for second love but to stand by her conviction that a second love should be as truthful and as reciprocally deserved as the first. Female leads are always being told by their "colorful" friends in the supporting cast to forgive the idiocies of men who allegedly mean well; see Pretty Woman, As Good As It Gets, She's All That, and the only film in over a decade to make the reconciliation remotely convincing, When Harry Met Sally.... I am still waiting for the movie in which the warm, sensible, attractive woman tells the fog-headed man who comes crawling back to her to take his flowery speeches and shove them. C

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