With the start of February, love is in the air leading up to Valentine’s Day. We decided that means we should review the entire resume of one of Hollywood’s most prolific romance writers Nicholas Sparks. Each day we’re releasing a different Sparks rom-com review so here we go with his debut film Message in a Bottle.
Synopsis: A woman discovers a tragic love letter in a bottle on a beach, and is determined to track down its author. (IMDB)
Starring: Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, and Paul Newman
Writer: Gerald Di Pego
Director: Luis Mandoki
Rating: PG-13 (United States)
Running Time: 126mins
Message In A Bottle follows the story of Theresa Osborne (Robin Wright), a writer for the Chicago Tribune. With her son away visiting her cheating ex-husband, Theresa goes on vacation. There she finds a love letter in a bottle that’s washed up on shore. Mesmerized by the author’s message, she returns to work and starts a column about the mystery writer known as “G.” Theresa analyses the letter to locate its writer: Garret Blake (Kevin Costner), a boat-restorer from North Carolina who writes these letters to his dead wife Catherine. As the two of them spend time together, Theresa falls for Garret while the latter’s father Dodge (Paul Newman) convinces him to do the same. After visiting Theresa in Chicago, Garret learns of her knowledge of the letters and must decide whether to pursue a relationship with her or not.
So this film is the typical romance premise. Attractive people meet, slowly get to know each other, fall for each other, the rug is pulled out from under them and they try to reconcile. The problem isn’t that this is an overdone trope because let’s be honest romance films will never die. The issue is that this is billed as a romance film, but there is little to no romance at all. The lead actors have no chemistry between them as their characters’ interactions are dry and forced.
That isn’t a jab at the acting because for the most part it is competent, in particular Newman’s scene-stealing father. No the issue is more so the lazy performance of Costner as the handsome loner type. He feels so distant from the rest of the characters that it is hard to really invest in his love life. Thankfully Newman, Wright and Coltrane all provide decent characters to salvage this story.
The film is shot rather well with some beautiful landscapes that help to embody the romanticized tone of the story. Unfortunately, that is where the positives end for this film. The silly and swoony story is hastily written with a tortoise-style pace to it making it unbearably slow at times. Pair that with its contrived ending and it becomes less of a tear-jerker and more of an eye-roller.
Overall, Message in a Bottle is a dull, dreary romantic drama that is anything but filled with romance. While some of the actors give decent performances in a beautifully shot film, the lazily written story, hollow leading man, lack of chemistry and strained ending make this message in a bottle one that doesn’t need to be opened. It plays into all the cliches of the genre without any of the campy fun stuff that goes along with it so it can only go up from here, right?
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