|DVD Romantic Comedy|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 23 November 1999|
When a movie begins, as "Mr. Wonderful" does, with two attractive people who have been divorced only a short while, but who are still obviously interested in one another, you know that it will end with them reunited. However, "Mr. Wonderful" is so well done, and wisely gives each of the leads a thoroughly reasonable alternative main squeeze, that after a while, you begin to hope (not just expect) that they will get back together -- and finally begin to fear that they won't. This kind of sweet anxiety for fictional characters is simply delightful.
This shift in the audience's desires and expectations is very unusual in a movie of this nature, and one of the strongest elements of this entertaining, warmhearted movie written by Amy Schor and Vicki Polon, and directed by Anthony Minghella. There's nothing at all tricky about what happens; the movie is honest and realistic, in its own romantic way; it's just that all of the characters are so likable that you begin to suspect that Gus (Matt Dillon) may indeed end up with Rita (Mary-Louise Parker), his new girlfriend, rather than with his ex-wife Lee (Annabella Sciorra).
They all live in an Italian neighborhood in New York, so they're always running into one another, something that irks both Gus and Lee, who're always quarreling. They broke up because she had ambitions outside the home, which apparently made Gus, an electrical power worker, more than a little uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Lee has begun an affair with one (William Hurt) of her college professors; he happens to be married, but she can do things with him she never could with Gus, like lie around in bed all afternoon reading poetry together.
Gus and four long-time friends hope to re-open a bowling alley, the childhood place of dreams of several of them; one (Dan Hedaya) of his friends is insistent that it be a true business deal, and Gus is willing to go along with that -- it's just that he doesn't have enough money to invest. Lee's alimony is eating up his paycheck, and he's kept secret from her the fact that he still owns his beloved classic Corvette for fear she'd claim half its value as community property.
But a blind date who asks him if he's Mr. Wonderful gives Gus a great idea. He can find "Mr. Wonderful" for Lee, marry her off, cease paying her alimony, and thereby have enough to invest in the bowling alley.
This puts them in touch again, and we -- and they -- see that they're still in love. But they really don't think they can get along as a couple again, though the spark and familiarity remain. This is demonstrated in a wise, touching scene involving his Corvette. Without any instructions, she immediately begins helping him stow the convertible top; it's something she's done many times before, and she falls into the old routine without a blink.
Matt Dillon is remarkably adept at playing a New York Italian guy; he has not only the patois down pat, but the swagger, the odd innocence, and the homeboy attitude. He's not street-real like a character in a Martin Scorsese movie, but he's authentic enough for a gentle romantic comedy like "Mr. Wonderful." Mary-Louise Parker has a sexy body and the face of the girl next door, complete with wistful crooked smile and angel eyes. William Hurt gives the professor a sexual fillip, complete with a kind of WASPy randiness and a certain intellectual snobbery.
These people are good in their roles, but Sciorra is -- as always -- simply great. She's both beautiful and immensely talented as an actor. She's like Jodie Foster in that she's always amazingly natural, moving like a real person rather than an actor in a role, but she isn't held back the way Foster is sometimes by a reticence regarding emotions. The other actors are fine in a film; Sciorra seems absolutely real. She's as authentic a part of New York as the taxis.
Anthony Minghella previously directed a wonderful romantic British movie, "Truly Madly Deeply," and he was a great choice for this one, too. However, who'd have guessed that his next picture would be the likes of "The English Patient"? And with the one after that, "The Talented Mr. Ripley," he went in yet another direction. He's a remarkably versatile director.
No one trumpeted the triumphs of "Mr. Wonderful" from the rooftops, because they're small, intimate triumphs; this isn't about great romantic passions, it's about small human ones. Yes, it's a predicable romantic comedy, but it's a satisfying one; it's not a treasure, but it is a treat. And we should only have more movies as cheerful, touching and charming as "Mr. Wonderful."