The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 8, 2000
Wide Angle

A tender love story
By Ervell E. Menezes

REMEMBER the 1960s popular song Return to Me sung by popular Italian tenors and Frank Sinatra. Well, that is the name of a new film Return to Me because it has a deeper meaning. Though heart trasplants began about three decades ago and have been associated with South African surgeon Christian Barnard, no one has thought up a plot in which the dead wife’s heart is given to another woman and the husband has a second chance of falling in love with the same heart. Inventive indeed.

And yet, apart from this new twist, which could also be construed as trite, it is a heart-warming story of love, death and remarriage, narrated quite matter-of-factly and set in the Irish-Italian quarter of Chicago where the aroma of boiled cabbage and ravioli pervades the air at O’Reilleys restaurant and the grand-daughter of the owner is the recepient of the transplanted heart.

But to begin at the beginning Bob Rueland (David Duchovny of X-Files fame) is an architectural engineer happily married to zoologist Elizabeth (Joely Richardson) whose heart and soul is in a project to preserve the dying ape species. After a fund-raising function she meets with a tragic accident, but not before she attains the status of a heart donor.

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Waiting for a heart and a transplant operation is Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver) whose grandpa Marty (Carroll O’Connor) owns O’Reilleys along with his brother Angelo (Robert Loggia). Grace’s mother succumbed to a heart ailment and Grace who helps out as a waitress at the restaurant also has a heart problem.

How Grace reacts to the new lease of life or the second chance is what Return to Me is all about. Judiciously guarded by a colourful coteries of oldies but egged on to date prospective suitors by her best friend Megan (Bonnie Hunt), Grace isn’t sure of what she wants until Bob, who is also looking for a second chance, turns up.

Now after being flooded with a barrage of mafia films here’s one which deals with the happier, more human, food-loving immigrant Italians, Irish Italians to be precise. The over-60s club plays cards after closing time, discuss Bing Crosby and Sinatra and also partake in singing. Not surprisingly old tunes like When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, Oh Danny Boy, Buena Sera, Senorita Kiss Me Goodnight and Tenderly are played to warm the cockles of oldies in the audience. The pace of course is halting, but director Bonnie Hunt narrates a sweet love story quite lovingly.

Probably brought up in that era of music which she knows like the back of her hand, Hunt weaves a tender love story. Its warmth and camaraderie comes across through every frame of the film. The average Italian family living in America is graphically recaptured. Joe Dayton (James Belushi) is a typical dad trying to avoid family chores but oozing love and happiness to his loving wife and a handful of kids.

Actually Bob and Grace are almost out of place with the oldies but they seem to adapt themselves well and all the old eyes are waiting for Cupid’s arrow to find its mark. There are hurdles of course and reluctance which all add up to the sense of victory when it comes and Hunt refrains from melodrama. The action shifts to Rome for the climax but it is the Chicago ambience that gives the film its best moments.

David Duchovny zeroes in on the bereaved husband’s character with ease and his initial reticence in getting involved is almost palpable. In this he is matched by Minni Driver who is in a similar predicament. The cameos by Carroll O’Connor, Robert Loggia (not a villain for once), Joely Richardson (another brief role as in The Patriot), David Alan Grier as Bob’s confidant Charlie and of course, James Belushi help with Bonnie Hunt also provides a good cameo.

Not in a long while has Hollywood come out with such a sweet love story. Really one from the heart.

And then we have a trite, slapstick, base comedy called Me, Myself & Irene with Jim Carrey doing the honours if one can call it that. As if one Jim Carrey (as Rhodes Island cop Charlie Baileygates) is not bad enough we have his alter ego Hank. "You’ve been avoiding confrontation and therefore have created this guy Hank," he is told.

His first marriage doesn’t work. The result of a cuckold are negro triplets. That this trio provides the film with its better moments is incidental but Charlie’s escapades with Irene Waters (Renee Zellweger) forms the body of the film. Irene is mistaken for a drug smuggler and Charlie is taking her back to her home town to be jailed.

If the Farrelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby) think they are introducing an element of pathos a la Charlie Chaplin they miss by a long way. As if their efforts with Dumb and Dumber were not bad enough they are even worse here. Crude humour, often hitting below the belt, slapstick and vulgarity are the order of the day. Jim Carrey’s eyebrows doing the tango are a ray of light in this apology of a comedy.

When Carrey did The Truman Show one thought he was bidding goodbye to this modern Jerry Lewis image, but it seems he has fans who like this brand of humour. Each one is entitled to his own choice or taste but thanks, no thanks. Me, Myself & Irene is a bit too much for me. Even ‘Me’ alone is too much, let alone ‘Myself and Irene.’

This feature was published on October 1, 2000