Julia Roberts delivers one of her best comic performances in Runaway Bride. Her exquisitely amusing reactions when trying to compose herself after ringing a church bell like Quasimodo -- while co-star Richard Gere mutters “Sanctuary, sanctuary!” -- are priceless. Happily, she’s just as funny in many other sequences, including four hilarious walk-down-the-aisle fiascos.
Roberts described Maggie Carpenter, the character she plays here, as “really a kind of normal small town girl who, for many different reasons over the course of several years, has become increasingly psychotic in her behavior.” Because of Maggie’s willingness to be whatever the man in her life wants her to be, she has no trouble getting engaged. However, her fear of commitment seems to prevent her from going through with the wedding ceremony. After leaving three different men at the altar, she’s getting ready to try a fourth time when New York columnist Ike Graham (Gere) enters her life.
Ike, who called Maggie a “maneater” in one of his columns, predicts she will walk out again on her latest victim. Naturally, when he appears in Maggie’s home town to chronicle the proceedings, the two become attracted to each other. (After all, these are the famous lovers from Pretty Woman.) The predictability of this romantic comedy in no way detracts from its humorous charm. Even Gere, whose talents are better served in dramas like Arbitrage and Primal Fear, manages to get a few laughs as a recovering misogynist, especially while being attacked by irate little old ladies.
Oscar-winner Joan Cusack (In and Out) makes a perfect best friend for the heroine, and Laurie Metcalf (Bulworth and TV’s “Roseanne”) hams it up delightfully in a memorable cameo. Both Rita Wilson (Sleepless in Seattle) and Hector Elizondo (Tortilla Soup) do their usual fine work, this time as Ike’s ex-wife and her understanding husband.
Director Garry Marshall, who also helmed Pretty Woman, succeeds in creating just the right small-town feeling for Runaway Bride. As Gere’s character observes upon arriving in Hale, Maryland, “I must be in Mayberry.” In keeping with this nostalgic atmosphere, Marshall wisely declined to include scenes of explicit sex and gratuitous violence, proving once again that these elements are not necessary for an entertaining movie. No wonder my inner church lady highly recommends this romantic comedy.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated “PG” for mild profanity and sexual innuendo.)
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