… Like a good steak, a romantic comedy has to sizzle. Great jokes can salvage a regular comedy, but in a romantic comedy you need to feel chemistry between the leads. If you don’t develop a burning desire in the pit of your stomach to see the two mismatched people beat the odds and end up together, then it doesn’t matter how many obstacles they overcome – in the end your meal will come to the table cold and you’ll leave the theater hungry.
In Forces of Nature, directed by Bronwen Hughes, the fates try everything they possibly can to bring Ben (Ben Affleck) and Sarah (Sandra Bullock) together. But Ben is supposed to marry Bridget (Maura Tierney). She’s waiting for him right now, in her parents’ (Blythe Danner and Ronnie Cox) house in boozy Savannah where the wedding is to take place. It’s time for some obstacles.
Gentle Ben gets on the plane and happens to sit down next to Wild Sarah. She notices that he is having trouble composing his own wedding vows, as he has promised Bridget he will do. He can’t think of anything to say. Then it starts. The plane crashes on takeoff. Ben and Sarah have to find another way to get to Georgia together. But they miss their bus. Then the train uncouples. Then the tour bus finds out they’re not really married, and the Cash-o-Gram burns down. Ben ends up having to strip to earn money to buy the car with the busted convertible top, which they have to drive, with no roof, into the eye of a hurricane.
Ben and Sarah are locked together all this time, but it’s not working. It can’t work because these two together are like two slices of low fat pastrami. Unlike the two wonderful co-stars, maid of honor Debbie (Meredith Scott Lynn) and best man Alan (Steve Zahn), who jump off the screen every time they appear, Ben’s lack of energy and Sarah’s manic silliness just end up convincing you more and more, as the film goes on, that Ben ought to marry the woman he is supposed to marry, Sarah should go back to her abandoned child, and then all the unhappily married people who never miss a chance to tell Ben, Bridget and Sarah just how miserable they are can die off or disappear and let this movie come to an end.
In between New York and Savannah there are some funny bits. Ben’s Grandpa tells him, "I never loved your grandmother. She looked like Tolstoy." The turnabout (when Sarah, who we are supposed to believe used to be an exotic dancer, goes into a bar to strip to raise money, only to discover it’s a gay bar and so it’s Ben who will have to strip) is thought provoking and very politically correct. A scene in a swimming pool showcases Alan and Debbie, if you accept the odds that they would just happen to be stopping in at the very hotel in this backwater of South Carolina where Ben and Sarah’s bus has stopped, after the old man has had the heart attack, and Ben who isn’t really a doctor saved him, and there’s the only Cuban band north of Fort Lauderdale playing live in the hotel bar and…oh, never mind.
My friend The Romantic Comedy Wimp saw this movie with me. She said, "the message about marriage was a good one." But was the movie about the message about marriage a good one? And which message? The one that says marriage is the snake pit from hell, or the one that says if she looks good standing on the balcony, go through with it because it just might work out?
Forces of Nature isn’t awful. It is just miscast. If Ben was being lured by someone more tempting, like Melanie Griffith in Wild Thing, say, it would have had more of an edge. In this movie Ben, who is not stupid, would have to be deaf to select Sarah over Bridget. Bridget has all the good lines.
Rent Forces of Nature. You’ll hear Ben sum up the movie himself, at the very end. As the credits are getting ready to roll, as Ben and his new bride (can you guess who?) are seen lolling on a beach in Hawaii, Ben, in voiceover, says this: "In the end all you can do is connect to the ones you love and hope for good weather."
I wish he had held out for a little more.