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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Italian: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, German - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • 1 Deleted scenes
  • 1 Theatrical trailer
  • 1 Audio commentary - Bonnie Hunt & Don Lake
  • Animated menus
  • 1 Music video

Return to Me (Rental)

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 111 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

The romantic comedy has long been one of the mainstays of Hollywood, a timeless genre that has produced some of the big screen’s biggest successes and best-loved movies over many decades. These days, though, it’s rare to find a romantic comedy that hasn’t fallen victim to tinsel-town’s worst excesses. Indeed, most recent films in this genre either lay on the melodrama with all the subtlety of a bazooka or over-compensate by throwing in unnecessary, out-of-character jokes and pratfalls. With this firmly in mind as the DVD of Return To Me landed in the player, hopes were not high for anything more than a mildly diverting bit of cinematic fluff.

How wonderful, then, to discover that Return To Me is that most rare of things - a romantic comedy done with insight, genuine feeling for story and character and perfect emotional balance. The overriding impression left by this film is that it harks back to the days of legendary directors like Frank Capra - and in fact, Return To Me writer/director Bonnie Hunt names Capra as a strong influence on her “little movie”.

The plot is straightforward. Bob Rueland (Duchovny) is an architect with a seemingly perfect life, happily married to zookeeper Elizabeth (Richardson) to whom he is nothing less than devoted. Everything changes, though, when Elizabeth is killed in a car accident - Bob is devastated by his loss, but some good does come out of the tragedy when the life of dying heart transplant patient Grace Briggs (Driver) is saved by the donation of Elizabeth’s heart. A year later, Bob and Grace chance to meet and, perhaps inevitably, they fall in love. But could Grace’s new heart still carry Elizabeth’s spirit within it?

On paper, of course, this all sounds monumentally cheesy. But the script (by Hunt and Don Lake) is perfectly judged, turning what could have been cardboard cliché characters into living, breathing people that the audience genuinely cares about. Also helping greatly in that department are the performances by the two leads: Duchovny has many seasons of The X-Files to live down (though he was a respected film actor well before taking on the role of Fox Mulder) and effortlessly paints a picture of a warm and very human man. Minnie Driver, meanwhile, is superb as Grace, playing the character with subtlety and utter believability, with the British actor’s perfect American accent, as always, thoroughly believable. The characters that surround them are colourful (many scenes are set in the Irish-Italian restaurant in which Grace works) and likeable. The skill with which this ensemble takes a familiar story to another level altogether is a joy to behold, and Return To Me can be wholeheartedly recommended not just for those looking for a “feel-good” movie - everyone who loves a good story about real people will find plenty to like here.

That this is Bonnie Hunt’s first feature film as writer or director is remarkable; even more so is the level of her involvement with it, as director, co-producer, co-writer, actor and even co-producer of some of the songs featured on the soundtrack. She obviously had a clear vision of what she wanted to do with Return To Me, and the result is charming, warm and unexpectedly old-fashioned. She refuses to take well-worn paths in telling her story - the car accident, for example, is never even seen by the viewer, despite MGM asking Hunt to film it (she refused). The characters are what’s important here, and the film never takes the audience’s attention away from them by resorting to visual fireworks - an admirable approach and, in the current Hollywood climate, more than a little bit daring.

  Video
Contract

The video transfer here is essentially quite lovely, boasting crisp, vibrant colours, loads of detail (particularly noticeable in darker scenes) and spot-on colour balance and contrast. Unfortunately, MGM’s MPEG encoding is once again not quite up to the challenge here, despite having a dual-layer disc to play with. The average bitrate of the feature is quite high - partly explained by the five Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks AND a commentary track included - but there’s still plenty of spare disc space, which could easily have been used to tackle some problem areas in the compression process.

The main problem is that any fine detail in the transfer itself sets off serious MPEG artifacting, aliasing and/or pixelisation, which while largely confined to backgrounds can still be very distracting. These kinds of problems have plagued several MGM DVDs I’ve seen recently, and anyone who’s ever encoded MPEG video on their own computer with a less-than-stellar encoder will know what I’m talking about here - quite simply, it looks like the MPEG encoder used here simply wasn’t up to the challenge. Compare the encoding quality on this dual-layered disc with anything single-layered of similar length from Sony’s DVD Centre and you’ll see what a difference a good encoder makes.

Oddly, the frequency of these problems diminishes massively once we get to the second layer of the disc; an inspection of the disc, though, shows that the average bitrate remains the same. Very possibly this was more a case of the viewer getting used to the problems, or more likely simply getting hooked into the film’s story and ignoring them completely.

Having said all that, most of these MPEG problems won’t bother the majority of viewers, but it’s disappointing to see an otherwise near-perfect film transfer marred by something so avoidable.

  Audio
Contract

Largely a dialogue-driven film, Return To Me still happily boasts a 5.1 soundtrack and makes good use of the broad sound stage to place the viewer in the characters’ world; the big band scenes early in the film make for good show-off material, too, with the music sounding natural and crystal-clear in what is a very realistic-sounding room. Much of the dialogue is from location sound tapes, yet remains perfectly legible at all times - not surprising at all in the digital age!

Soundtracks (and menus) are also provided in French, German, Italian and Spanish, all of them in a 5.1 format.

  Extras
Contract

Though this disc initially appears in Australia as a rental-only offering, the disc appears to be identical to the European sell-through disc, with all extras present and accounted for. Of most interest is the commentary by Bonnie Hunt and co-writer Don Lake; it’s quite a broad effort that nonetheless does offer plenty of insights not only into the technical making of the film itself, but also into the various decisions made during the writing and shooting of the movie and the motivations behind the characters’ actions. Hunt isn’t as fluidly talkative as some, while Lake tends to take things a little less seriously than he should - especially during the closing credits, a Great Commentary Moment that has to be heard to be believed!

Aside from this, there’s a theatrical trailer (16:9 enhanced and with quality rivalling the main feature, but suffering far less from compression problems), a “music video” of actor Joey Gian’s big-band song What If I Love You (shot on Video 8 by Hunt and looking absolutely dreadful, very much a home movie) and a single deleted scene, referenced by Hunt during her commentary. The animated menus (in five languages as well) are lovely, but some cast and crew bios would have been appreciated.

  Overall  
Contract

Listen to the commentary and you’ll eventually get to a point where Bonnie Hunt states that we all must be sick of her telling us how much she loves her movie - and yes, she does go on about her fondness for it a lot. But then, there’s so much about her movie to love, from the characters and their portrayals to the warm world in which they live, all of it beautifully photographed by the legendary Laszlo Kovacs. For this writer, Duchovny and Driver’s performances alone make this one a must-see, but anyone with even the vaguest interest in romantic comedies (with emphasis on the romance) will love this movie, as will those who miss the days when Hollywood movies were built around characters first and foremost. It’s a film you’ll be able to come back to again and again - something that is going to be quite expensive to do, though, until this disc is available to buy later this year!

Highly recommended.


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      And I quote...
    "...A romantic comedy done with insight, genuine feeling for story and character and perfect emotional balance..."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Rom:
          Pioneer 103(s)
    • MPEG Card:
          Creative Encore DXR2
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-AV1020
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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