In Mirimax Picture's 'Bounce,' an admittedly extraordinary circumstance becomes the catalyst for a story about ordinary people living ordinary lives and being all the more extraordinary for that. Far from being yet another 'chick-flick' romance, 'Bounce' is a movie that explores how guilt and love and friendship and kindness and dishonesty and fear can all intertwine and how average people respond to the randomness of life and chance. It is, in short, an outstanding movie that is refreshingly free of the cliches that normally burden romances of this type.
The story revolves around Buddy Amaral (Ben Affleck), a jet setting ad executive who, in order to get a one night stand with fellow passenger Mimi Praeger (Natasha Henstridge), gives his airplane ticket to Greg Janello, a TV writer and failed playwrite who is anxious to get home to his wife, Abby (Gweneth Paltro) and sons Joey and Scott, played by David Dorfmann and Alex Linz. When the plane on which Buddy was supposed to fly subsequently crashes, killing all including Greg, Buddy is overwhelmed with guilt and descends into alcoholism. After spending time in rehab, Buddy decides that he must make amends to Greg's family and arranges for Abby, now working as a struggling real estate agent, to sell Buddy's advertising agency new offices. Buddy and Abby fall in love, but he cannot bring himself to tell her the truth. At that point, Mimi has a chance meeting with Abby who discovers Buddy's secret.
Notwithstanding a somewhat contrived situation, 'Bounce' succeeds because its characters are multidimensional and very human. Buddy and Abby are attractive people because they are real people that the audience wants to get to know. Buddy is a hot shot at the start of the movie, but he is also vulnerable and lonely and desperate to be liked. Abbey is the grieving widow, but she is also an attentive mother, a suburban housewife and a working woman who has to support two young children but is not sure, even a year after her husband's death, that she can do it. What is more, both are wracked by guilt caused by a situation that they could not predict or control, but that has radically changed their lives.
Make no mistake, Abby and Buddy are not the traditional Hollywood romantic movie heroes. These are not characters who start out flawed and whose romance redeems them from their sins. Rather, both of these characters are striving to overcome their flaws. Not in the typical 'run away to find yourself' soul searching Hollywood way, but rather in the little every day ways of their growing love.
This is powerful stuff because screenwriter/director Don Roos has avoided the snappy dialogue and corny speeches that make most Hollywood romantic characters seem inauthentic. Rather, Roos makes them human and therefore sympathetic. When Abby fails to understand a joke that Buddy makes, the audience can laugh with her because they've been the ones who have missed the joke. When Buddy struggles to tell his secret, the audience can sympathize with his struggle because they have sometimes had trouble telling the truth.
As for the acting, Paltrow puts in an absolutely riveting performance. She deftly avoids the cliche of the happy widow or the tough mom. She makes Abby a totally believable character whose pain is real to the audience, but whose understated courage calls for admiration. In this movie, Paltrow masters a character that could easily have become a one dimensional caricature, but instead takes on real flesh and blood characteristics.
Typically, Ben Affleck's performance does not get quite the rave reviews that his co-star and former real life girlfriend gets. However, this is unfair. For while Paltrow avoids the pitfall of making her character into a cliche, Affleck has the harder job because his character's motivations are less straightforward. Buddy vulnerabilities are harder to define, harder to see and his guilt is more complex than Abby's. For where she feels guilty because her last words to her husband were made in hasty argument, Buddy's guilt is strictly speaking unwarranted. He did a man a favor and random chance saved Buddy's life. Yet Buddy's guilt is real, and is perhaps more rooted in the emptiness he feels in his life and in his sense that the frivolousness of his actions were repaid in tragedy for another.
Affleck conveys this brilliantly and in subtle ways. When a flight attendant spurns Buddy's advances, he looks both amused and baffled and genuinely hurt. When Abby mentions Greg's name after having just clinched the real estate deal that Buddy threw her way, Buddy looks hurt and disappointed in spite of himself. When Abby finally confronts Buddy about his secret, the pain is palpable but restrained. He tears up, his voice cracks as he says good bye and asks for forgiveness, but he does not gush or create the emotional scene that is normally requisite in a Hollywood romance. This is emotionally complex stuff and Affleck deserves credit for what is surely the best performance of his entire career.
As to the rest of the cast, their work is stupendous. Johnny Galecki as Seth, Buddy's gay assistant, is brilliant, more than compensating for the fact that his character is a sort of glorified Jimminy Cricket. Tony Goldwyn is instantly likeable as Greg, as is Natasha Henstridge as Mimi. David Dorfman and Alex Linz are also quite good as Abby's sons. One only wishes that there had been more time to develop the relationship between Buddy and the boys. Fortunately, what the audience does see is both believable and touching.
'Bounce' is emotionally compelling without bludgeoning its audience. Although there are a few plot contrivances that do not quite ring true, this is more than compensated for by characters that are real, sympathetic and engaging. At the start of the film Buddy asks, 'Am I that much of a cliche?' No he is not, and that is what makes 'Bounce' such a moving and human story.