In "Bounce," Ben Affleck goes searching for the widow of the dead guy who got his seat on a doomed airliner. He plans to apologize but falls in love with her instead.
He doesn't tell her their meeting was no coincidence, despite several clear opportunities, and he shows no credible guilt over it. One night, the widow (a very moving Gwyneth Paltrow) bears her soul about her grief, and still he holds his tongue. Another night he sleeps with her instead of telling her the truth. He buddies up to her two young sons as a way to avoid telling her on other occasions. And when he finally does fess up, it's too late -- she's already found out from somebody else.
Yet we're supposed to like this selfish jackass because he's a recovering alcoholic and a glib stud learning What's Really Important In Life. We're supposed to feel bad for Ben and his broken heart. We're supposed to root for Ben and Gwynnie to get back together because his eyes get a little moist after she gives him his walking papers.
Good riddance, I say.
But that's not the way things work in the movies, so we're treated to a reel of Ben's insincere regrets. His conscience doesn't truly kick in until he's on the witness stand, testifying for the airline in a lawsuit brought by the families of the crash victims. Why is he testifying for the airline? Well, Ben plays an advertising exec, and the carrier is his biggest client. Let's here it for this guy's integrity!
I'm so disappointed in writer-director Don Roos. The driving force behind "The Opposite of Sex" -- the hilariously cynical yet emotionally complex sex farce that catapulted Christina Ricci out of her kiddie role rut -- I would never have suspected him capable of something this sentimentally disingenuous.
Paltrow is the one saving grace in "Bounce." As an emotionally frayed woman still trying to pick up the pieces of her life a year after the accident, she brings such nuance and authenticity to her character that you wish you were her friend so you could be there for her to lean on during her recovery. Paltrow's performance grows on you that much, even though her character is a bit of a flake -- a personality trait she plays endearingly.
Affleck, on the other hand, fails to find any redeeming qualities in his role. Yes, he's handsome and charming, but he's a soulless egocentric and his feelings of culpability go largely unexplored. Not even in the end does he apologize to this woman he supposedly loves. Although, to be fair to Affleck, the script deserves much of the blame for the fact that this guy is such a reprehensible rat.
So just in case the audience isn't ready to like him even though he hasn't earned it, Gwyneth's best friend (Caroline Aaron) gives a speech about how she should forgive him for depth-charging her (and her kids') recovery. "Look," she says, "guys screw up."
Oh, shut up. That's the moral of the story? Guys are idiots, lower your standards? I can't tell you how sick I am of seeing this moronic message beaten into women's heads in cinematic "romance" after romance. A real romantic hero would be the guy who doesn't screw up in the first place.