After viewing "Forces of Nature," it was apparent that the film had
attempted to be a little more off-beat, and a little more
unconventional, than your normal romantic comedy, and credit should go
to screenwriter Marc Lawrence and director Bronwen Hughes for lifting
this one slightly above mediocrity, but they didn't go far enough. What
might have been an original romance ultimately turned out to more often
than not just as cliched as the rest of the worn-out genre, sort of like
1987's far superior "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" if Steve Martin or
John Candy had had a sex change.
Ben Holmes (Ben Affleck), a blurb writer for book jackets, is a New
Yorker only days away from getting married to his fiancee, Bridget (Mara
Tierney), down at her family's victorian home in Savannah, Georgia.
After getting on the airplane to travel up there, he meets Sarah (Sandra
Bullock), a slightly off-kilter but bewitching young woman, who happens
to be seated next to him. Even before the plane is able to get off the
ground, a pigeon accidentally flies into one of the engines, causing the
plane to crash and knocking Sarah unconcious. Once Sarah comes to, she
is overly grateful to Ben, whom she suddenly kisses and exclaims, "you
saved my life," while he is on the phone with Bridget to let her know he
is alright. Since Ben and Sarah are both headed for Savannah, they
decide to make their way up there together, all the while constantly
running into various transportation and weather hurdles. Strangely
enough, Ben begins to hear a lot of negative stories about marriage
during this journey, and begins to question his impending marriage, as
well as his blossoming relationship with Sarah.
Although you may think you know where this story is headed, you're most
likely wrong, since one of the strongest things about "Forces of Nature"
are the chances it takes, particularly for a mainstream romantic comedy,
so that everything cannot be as easily predicted as expected. When the
climactic moment came, set at a hurricane-swept wedding, the outcome was
satisfying and realistic, and I appreciated this approach that was
Unfortunately for all involved, what comes before the conclusion is
basically well-traveled territory that wasn't exactly crying out to be
reworked for the umpteenth time. The middle section, especially, as we
follow Ben and Sarah in cars, on trains, and on a bus filled with
elderly vacationers travelling to Miami, often came off as bland and
uninteresting, as Ben and Sarah possibly begin to fall in love. All the
obstacles in their way, of course, are nothing but plot contrivances to
get the two people together, and it was this section of the film that
was such a letdown, and nowhere near as entertaining or funny as some of
the best road movies (1983's "National Lampoon's Vacation" and the
aforementioned "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," immediately come to
On the upside of things, Sandra Bullock is finally in the right
direction after some blaringly bad film choices (1997's "Speed 2," her
most annoying performance to date, and 1998's goofy, wildly misguided
"Practical Magic"), but something tells me she should try something a
little different next time, rather than yet another tiresome romance.
Ben Affleck here has also found his best role since probably 1997's
"Chasing Amy," and it is a big, big step up from last year's
embarrassment, "Armageddon," as he has a great comic flare and perfect
chemistry with Bullock. Screenwriting Lawrence is ultimately not as kind
in his treatment of the supporting characters in "Forces of Nature."
Tierney, as Ben's fiancee, Bridget, is disappointingly looked upon as
more of a caricature than a real person, which is something that really
perturbs me in movies featuring main characters who are "big stars."
Blythe Danner and Ronny Cox, as Bridget's parents, mostly disappear into
the background, but there is a funny turn here by Meredith Scott Lynn,
as the bride's maid who comes into contact with Ben and Sarah on their
way to Savannah. Lynn, a standout in 1998's "Billy's Hollywood Screen
Kiss," deserves wide screen acclaim, maybe not for this film since she
has very little to do, but hopefully in the future.
One of the highlights in "Forces of Nature" is the beautiful, mystifying
cinematography by Elliot Davis, which paints a fantasy-style portrait of
the several different types of extreme weather in the film. In one
magical sequence, Ben and Sarah get stuck outside in a hail storm, via
slow-motion, and we are able to see the hail, looking like heavenly
crystals, falling gracefully from the sky. Meanwhile, the hurricane that
arrives in the climax at the wedding, causes the various colorful
napkins and decorations to star flowing around the characters, as if
they are in a tornado crossed with a bright rainbow.
"Forces of Nature" is a sometimes enjoyable film, and Affleck and
Bullock worked wonderfully together, but aside from the ending, why did
the premise have to follow such a strict pattern of the usual cliches
and plot devices that we so often see in movies of this type? Are there
some set of rules I don't know about that have to be abided, no matter
what, by the filmmakers of romantic comedies? While far from a complete
misfire, "Forces of Nature" remains simply too by-the-numbers to be
particularly gratifying or worthwhile.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman