Forces of Nature

Memphis Flyer

DIRECTED BY: Bronwen Hughes

REVIEWED: 03-29-99

Approached as an illustrative intersection of contemporary film industry standards, mass marketing, and other trend lines of popular culture, the road-trip romantic comedy Forces of Nature is not without interest or moments of enjoyment. Approached as a film which clearly presumes itself heir to the grand tradition of the madcap comedies of the ’30s and early ’40s (such as Leo McCarey’s The Awful Truth or Preston Sturges’ Palm Beach Story), it can be frustrating, irritating, and as some of our grandmothers used to say, “a sad comment” — either on Hollywood’s current aesthetic/commercial formula or on our society’s values and attention span. Though better than most of its generic peers, it is essentially about marketable stars and a pop-music soundtrack. The scenes have the texture and brevity of music-video snippets stitched with dialogue that more often than not plays like arch improvisation or carefully, cutely crafted soundbites. Forces of Nature subscribes to the notion that many adult and nearly all young-adult audiences can no longer tolerate emotional or intellectual demands that take them beyond the familiar millennial poles of ironic fluff and shallow sentimentality. It suggests that, even in comedy, we are not to be trusted with scene development beyond the length of the parenthetically guitar-twanged vignettes of a Seinfeld episode.

Forces of Nature does have its share of laughs, and at least one half of its leading couple (Ben Affleck) pulls out a sly, interesting, well-rounded comic performance. The film is scripted by Marc Lawrence and relies heavily on cliché, and it is directed in compatible manner by Bronwen Hughes, whose ideas of lyricism and whimsy seem primarily composed of computer-enhanced sunsets, computer-generated hailstones, wind machines, and snow-like flakes that eddy about the characters as they move though their vignettes, often in stagey poses and choreographed slow-motion. The director’s allegiance to an MTV worldview aside, Forces of Nature’s predominant cinematography, by Elliot Davis, is interesting, eloquent, and lush.

The soundtrack, though perfectly all right, has the merest connection to what’s happening in the film and, when Hughes does try to deploy it as comic or emotional motif, the results are heavyhanded, sophomoric, and unintentionally trivializing. Sexual attraction is always announced by a downbeat and a few bars of heavy-bass R&B; soulfulness is assigned reverb ballads. (So much for the comedy’s level of tonal shading, character development, and wit.)

Affleck plays Ben, who is going to Savannah to be married, when he meets Sarah (Sandra Bullock) on the flight from New York to Georgia. When the plane’s take-off is perilously aborted, Ben and Sarah decide to ride to Savannah together in a rented car. A typical screwball series of misadventures befalls them as, of course, well-to-do, prudently civilized Ben and nonconformist Sarah — who sports a long resume of stopgap jobs and injudiciously chosen men — find themselves attracted to one another.

Will Ben, by the time they reach Savannah, call off his marriage? Will Sarah win back the love of the 10-year-old son whom she has not seen in more than two years? With an actress in the role of Sarah who might transcend the shallow material as Affleck does — with intelligent subtlety, an actor’s sense of credible comedy, and appealing charm — we might care.

Sandra Bullock is not that actress. In her over-indicating grimaces and in-your-face inflections, her frenetic movements, and over-emphatic hands, Sarah does indeed become one of the titular Forces of Nature — and it is not a pretty sight. The role (no doubt crafted, in some substantial degree, for her) encourages all her faults as an actress, and the whole is even more egregiously annoying than its parts. Watching Sandra Bullock with free license to play free-spirited! kooky! zany! quirky! — at full throttle — is a deeply wearying experience.

--Hadley Hury

Other Films by Bronwen Hughes
Harriet the Spy

Film Vault Suggested Links
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Grosse Pointe Blank
Grumpier Old Men

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