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Our review of Gwyneth Paltrow 4-Film Collection, published May 9th, 2012, is also available.
Fall in love with fate.
Few films perfectly encapsulate Miramax's turn-of-the-century identity quite like Bounce, a romantic drama starring Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow. While Miramax had once prided itself on taking chances on bold, independent filmmakers, it didn't take long before they started churning out movies that were a little bit more ambitious and classy than average yet still relied heavily on proven formulas. In other words, they started producing Oscar bait. While Bounce's "horrible tragedy + sweet romance" combination didn't stir up much more than an MTV Movie nomination for Best Kiss (where it lost to Save the Last Dance), it's a modestly appealing movie that is simultaneously better and worse than it ought to be.
The film's weakest element is undoubtedly its plot, which is built on contrivances and conventions. Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) plays hotshot ad man Buddy Amaral, who is a wildly successful, womanizing cynic. He's been in Chicago on a business trip and is ready to head back to L.A., but his flight gets delayed. Attempting to pass the time, Buddy hangs out with a struggling writer named Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn, Ghost) and chews the fat for a while. Buddy grows to like Greg quite a bit, and even agrees to give up his boarding pass and allow Greg to fly out before him. Remarkably, this act of generosity turns out to be a narrow escape: Greg's flight crashes and leaves no survivors.
Buddy is struck with survivor's guilt, and finds himself struggling on a personal and professional level in the months that follow. That problem is exacerbated by the fact that his biggest client is the very airline responsible for Greg's death, and the fact that Buddy is tasked with working on an ad campaign to defend the airline's integrity. After spending some time in rehab to deal with his depression and alcoholism, Buddy determines to check in on Greg's widow Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow, Iron Man). Alas, he's not upfront with her about his relationship with her husband, and instead pretends to be an ordinary stranger interested in a business transaction (Abby is a realtor, and Greg pretends to be interested in one of her properties).
This introduces the fundamental problem with Bounce, which is that we're waiting a solid hour or so (from the moment Buddy meets Abby to the moment he actually decides to tell her the truth) for the axe to fall, and it hangs over everything that happens during that hour in a particularly unpleasant way. Sure, they're charming each other, growing as people, having pleasant interactions and engaging in thoughtful dialogue, but we know that it's all just a prelude to that moment when Abby finds out who Buddy really is, angrily breaks up with him and then spends some time collecting her thoughts before their inevitable reunion in the final reel. The movie has some legitimate insights into human nature and some valuable thoughts on survivor's guilt, but the tediously conventional nature of the film's structure (complete with a dramatic third-act courtroom scene in which the protagonist makes a speech which shocks everyone in the room) makes the whole affair feel a good deal more superficial than it really is.
That's a shame, because Affleck and Paltrow do some nice work in the movie. Bounce comes from a particularly dire period in Affleck's career (it was preceded by Reindeer Games and followed by Pearl Harbor), but the actor is authentic and likable in the part (he's a far more persuasive and realistic "jerk who learns a few lessons" than the similar character he played a few years later in Surviving Christmas). Paltrow turns in a stellar, understated performance which never strains for Oscar glory during moments that many actresses would have undoubtedly overplayed. The two share a warm chemistry together, and they're backed by a solid supporting cast. The highlight is Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory), who transforms a conventional "gay best friend" supporting role into a credible character.
The film was written and directed by Don Roos, who has a knack for strong characterization and convincing dialogue but who is constantly undone by his tedious plotting. Perhaps that's why his best work has been done on the web series Web Therapy, which establishes a simple scenario and then lets the characters do their thing. Bounce might be his strongest film from a technical standpoint (it includes an expert score by Mychael Danna and strong cinematography courtesy of Robert Elswit), but its numerous virtues are all muted considerably by the ho-hum nature of the story he's concocted.
Bounce (Blu-ray) has received a middle-of-the-road 1080p/1.85:1 transfer which gets the job done in no-nonsense fashion. The level of detail is respectable, blacks are moderately deep and flesh tones are natural enough, but the film does look a little weathered—at a glance, I'd have guessed it was from the mid-1990s rather than 2000 from the video quality. Still, despite some of Elswit's stronger moments, Bounce isn't really a visually-oriented film, so it's not a huge liability. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a bit stronger, as Danna's score gets a strong mix, the sound design is involving throughout (only the courtroom scene seems to lack any noticeable ambiance) and the dialogue is clean and clear. Supplements are recycled from the DVD: a commentary with Roos and producer Bobby Cohen, some scene-specific commentary with Affleck and Paltrow, a couple of lightweight featurettes ("Behind the Scenes with Ben and Gwyneth" and "All About Bounce"), a gag reel, some deleted scenes, a Leigh Nash music video and a theatrical trailer.
Those with a strong stomach for conventional plotting may find Bounce a rewarding viewing experience, but most viewers will find the movie a mixed bag at best. The Blu-ray doesn't really demand an upgrade.
Bounce is ordered to spend three months in screenwriting rehab.
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