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Just the Right 'Bounce'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 2000


    'Bounce' Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow shine in "Bounce." (Miramax)
Full disclosure: I was one of the few critics who hated "The Opposite of Sex," the 1998 filmmaking debut of Don Roos. So I didn't expect to like his new film, "Bounce," any better, and not just because the trailers make it look so sappy, which, admit it, you know they do. I was afraid of the opposite: that the movie, like its predecessor, would be too jaundiced and misanthropic for its own good.

Good news: It's just jaundiced and misanthropic enough.

For me, anyway. People who revel in the bilious may be disappointed that the sour-puss Roos has actually made a conventional boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl-etc. romance. To heck with them.

Actually, "Bounce" is not all that conventional, as love stories go. Its plot is more along the lines of: Boy meets boy who already has girl; second boy dies; first boy feels guilty and introduces himself to dead boy's girl; boy and girl lie to each other, fall in love, break up and – well, that would be telling.

Here's how it goes: Ben Affleck is womanizing ad man Buddy Amaral. In an airport bar while waiting for a delayed flight home from a business trip, he meets Greg Janello (Tony Goldwyn), a fellow Los Angeleno. When Greg gets bumped from the over-booked flight, Buddy gives him his ticket, not so much from the kindness of his heart – he's not that kind – but so that he (that is, Buddy) can spend the night with an airport pickup he's also just met (Natasha Henstridge). Oops. The plane crashes, Greg dies. Buddy, apparently already a heavy drinker and now wracked with guilt, descends into alcoholism. After he almost loses his job and is sent to rehab to dry out, Buddy gets needled by his tart-tongued and also in-recovery assistant, Seth (the always wonderful Johnny Galecki). Soon he's all the way up to infamous steps 8 and 9 of all those 12-step programs: make a list of those you have injured and make amends.

Which leads to Buddy looking up Greg's widow, Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow), and, in the course of attempting to make sure she's financially okay (steering a big sale in the direction of the novice real estate agent), the two fall in love. At first, Abby tells Buddy she's divorced. That's her little white lie, but she soon owns up as the pair get closer. Buddy, however, can't quite bring himself to tell her the truth about how he came into the picture, until Abby finds out on her own. All hell then breaks loose.

Okay, not exactly all hell, but a little bit of hell. The look on Paltrow's face as she kicks Buddy out is palpably pained – and conflicted. The man she loved and trusted has betrayed her, stalked her even, and on one level may be at least indirectly responsible for her husband's death. Ewww.

Paltrow does a superb job of conveying the character's complex mixed emotions. And if Affleck isn't quite up to her high acting standards, he still does a yeoman's job of portraying a man whom love and A.A. have given a new lease on life. Buddy's yearning for Abby and his remorse about hiding his connection to her late husband feel genuine and unforced. Whether the stars' own romantic history as a couple has anything to do with their apparent rapport and ease with each other is anybody's guess, but these two characters really click.

And that's what makes "Bounce" work. Yes, the premise is a bit preposterous and a scene near the end – in which Buddy addresses Abby via television, while testifying in a lawsuit filed against the airline by some of the victims' families – is about as far-fetched as they come. You keep expecting some lawyer to interrupt him and say, "Your honor, would you please direct the witness to answer the question?"

Don't believe the hype – or the commercials for this movie, which make it look like "Sleepless in Seattle II." "Bounce" is unorthodox romantic fare. It's a love story, yes, but one whose sweetness is cut by honest performances, a sharply drawn supporting cast and a fairly serious, yet never self-pitying, tone. It makes starting over look as daunting – and as rewarding – as it can be.

"Bounce" (PG-13, 105 minutes) – Contains obscenity and a discreet bedroom scene.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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