Bounce

Rating:

Lazy, Annoying Romance

Main Cast: Ben Affleck, Gwyneth Paltrow

Director: Don Roos

Bounce. It’s just a movie. A quite typical, unimaginative, lazy movie. Its main characters are a bad guy and a good girl, and the main theme is romance/star crossed lovers/secrets/lies/get the girl/lose the girl/ all the usual crap. Not terribly inspired, but not the worst movie in the history of film (not even the worst I’ve seen in the last month). For some reason, however, this movie got under my skin. I’m generally not the type to be overly Oprah-esque about these things, after all, they are just movies. But movies do have a way of subtly changing how we see the world, either because they are a singular tour-de-force (a la Schindler’s List) or because they are a single example of an entire genre that’s headed down a particular path (a la Sleepless in Seattle – the girl movie – or There’s Something About Mary – the gross out movie). As such, they do have a small but sometimes significant effect on us as a whole. I think that serious students of film (I know you’re out there) would have even more examples of the power of film, but their expertise and insight would be wasted on this particular product.

Bounce is the tale of Buddy (Ben Affleck). To say that this is anything but his story would be to give the movie credit for developing other characters, which it doesn’t. Buddy is a high powered playboy advertising executive, proud to have just scored a big deal and on his way home from Chicago to LA. Buddy gets stuck at the airport due to bad weather and meets up with several other people, some he knows, others he doesn’t. No matter to Buddy, he’s everyone’s friend, with a nasty edge of self centered arrogance. He’s the kind of guy who rips on a stranger for no particular reason, talks too loud, and forces his company on people. Buddy gets away with this because Buddy is a good lookin’ guy, he knows it, the movie knows it, we’re supposed to know it. I hated Buddy within five minutes. We’re supposed to hate him at this point.

Buddy meets (read: ambushes Buddy style) a likeable writer on his way home to his family after a disastrous play opening (and closing). Greg (Tony Goldwyn) is sucked into a conversation with Buddy and his latest lady friend which ends in Buddy giving Greg his ticket to the last flight leaving for LA. How sweet, giving his ticket to the family man who just wants to get home. Except Buddy doesn’t give a rat’s behind about Greg, or anyone else. Buddy wants to get laid, and that he does. He even strong arms a female flight attendant (Jennifer Grey) with whom he has history (gee, wonder how he knows her) into letting Greg take his seat without proper safety precautions. What a guy!

Well, the plane crashes, killing everyone aboard, including the amiable Greg, who just happens to be married to the equally amiable Abby (Gwyneth Paltrow). We see her initial grief, then we’re back to good old Buddy. See, Buddy is havin’ just a little bit of survivor guilt. Perfectly understandable given the circumstances, but given what we’ve seen of his character, without foundation. He’s not doing his job particularly well, and he’s drinking just too darn much. Time for rehab! When he gets back, he has an acerbic new assistant, Seth (Johnny Galecki), also a recovering addict. Buddy also has a bucket full of self pity, which only Seth is willing to call him on.

We get to see Buddy looking at his 12 step manual, right at the step that talks about making amends. Thus begins his interaction with Abby. He goes to her house (which, by the way, looks remarkably like the Brady house), follows her to work, and basically tries to give her things to make himself feel better. A job, a commission, eventually the Bud-man himself, all in the name of making amends for feeling that he sent her husband to his death so he could have a one night stand. Mind you, it has taken him a full year to get to this point.

Well, wouldn’t you just know it, Abby is a nice lady, and Buddy just can’t bring himself to tell her who he is, instead he decides to have a relationship with her. Of course she finds out the truth, and heartbreak and revelation follow (at this point we’re supposed to like Buddy).

Now you’ve probably gotten the idea that I have a few problems with this movie. As I said, this is a movie about Buddy. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, a movie is supposed to have a main character. The story has Buddy going from insensitive lout to all ‘round nice guy who realizes the error of his ways and renounces his former self. At least they think that’s what they’re doing. The mistake here is that they seem to have forgotten about Abby. This is a woman whose husband is dead, and she now has to support her two children and deal with her own loss. In the few instances where she is allowed to do so, Paltrow imbues Abby with a real sense of sadness, loss, and nostalgia. She also allows her to show her strength in the face of her circumstances. Unfortunately, we get to focus on Buddy. His guilt, his sadness, his idiotic horniness which leads him to tell an already traumatized woman a lie that will most certainly hurt her yet again. And this is where we’re supposed to like and be rooting for this guy!! Affleck doesn’t give a bad performance, it’s just that the whole notion that we are supposed to feel sorry for this guy makes me want to hurl. The entire tone of the film is a giant pity party for poor Buddy, who lived, and lost…well, nothing, unless you count his grand gesture of actually telling the truth at the end and, egads, losing his job, as something lost. Abby and her family, the characters actually victimized by the accident, are basically airbrushed out of existence.

Once again, the woman ends up in the supporting role in a movie that was most certainly marketed toward women. Just once, I would have liked to see the woman who has been hurt stand up and simply leave, move on and make a life for herself without the sap who hurt her. More so, however, what I want is a movie that supports that idea, rather than pulling out all the stops to make the viewer want this relationship to work. Bounce puts all the energy it could have used to show some real emotional depth into pushing these two people together for the sake of a pat ending. The movie sets up a truly horrible situation for its female character, and then proceeds to basically ignore her grief and focus instead on her new romance. The movie even has her kids accepting this guy, with only a smidge of hesitation. Overall, the set up of a family losing a husband/father in a horrible accident was shamelessly used as a back drop for a lame romance. The fact that Buddy is so inherently repellent is just icing on the cake.

Lest you think that I am completely rabid, I will (grudgingly) give Bounce credit for some touching scenes, virtually all involving Paltrow’s Abby showing some very well played emotion. The film makers also do not insist on having the female characters always in full make up. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is rumpled when she wakes up, and the movie lets her be. She and Affleck have good on-screen chemistry and are clearly comfortable with each other. Affleck manages to stir up a genuine emotion or two, particularly as he slides into alcoholism in the wake of the crash. The notion of survivor guilt is not what ruined this movie, it’s the notion of survivor guilt as some sort of emotional springboard for romance that hits a sour note. Buddy has every right to his emotional response to the crash, unfortunately, the movie just doesn’t give him enough depth to begin with to make the strength of his reaction believable. What he does to Abby supports his essential shallowness, and renders all his angst moot. The one shining character in the film is Johnny Galecki’s Seth, who sums up Buddy perfectly in his comment that the best part about working for Buddy is the lack of hero worship involved. A very good, although too small, role and performance.

Writer/director Don Roos should have chosen which movie he wanted to make, that of a twit who is shocked into making some life changes, or that of a grief stricken woman making the first tentative steps back into life. Combining the two, unfortunately, produced Bounce. The notion that the main point is about romantic fate does not hold up, the movie just doesn’t support the premise. Truly die hard fans of either Paltrow or Affleck may find this film appealing, but others may want to take a pass. I’m sure that not everyone will find it as unlikable as I did, but it is certainly pallid at best.

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