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Ben Affleck holds his own in “Forces of Nature”

Forces of NatureForces of Nature

Directed by Bronwen Hughes

Written by Marc Lawrence

Released March 19, 1999
Comedy (romance)
105 min. • Find on imdb

Review by Dale Jennings

April 3, 1999.

The Title of Forces of Nature offers an insight into how producers of films think.

They latch onto a good title and attach it to whatever film they think it will help. It seldom has anything to do with the film itself, but if it sells tickets, who cares? This time, however, such thinking caught up with them. The good title happens to be attached to a good film. It has little or nothing to do with the plot except in a very general way—but it got the two of us to buy tickets.

This brings up the advertising quotes that are customarily used in ads. None of them this time are even remotely applicable. “A smart romantic romp” is somewhat near although I don’t see how “smart” applies. “Unabashedly romantic fun” is typically misleading in implying that it is blunt, frank, and daring which it is not. It indeed is fun, but not all those other things. “Simply irresistible” simply isn’t so. The whole affair can easily be resisted. I like it but will be unable to tell you what it was about in fewer than 30 days. “Outrageously funny” is also a routine lie. I laughed once out loud and smiled the rest of the way, but there was nothing whatever outrageous about the mild humor of the piece.

Hardly daring, it tells a simple home-town sort of yarn that could be shown in any church basement during a benefit. The most daring sequence involves the top button of the hero’s shirt being opened. It raises hopes and quickly shatters them by cutting to a routine small-town shot which was as exciting as a bowl of tapioca.

At this moment, my friend has suggested that it was the hero of this film [Ben Affleck] who recently committed suicide. I hope not. He was a handsome, intelligent young fellow who should be starting a long career in films. Sandra Bullock seems a shade too old for him, too sophisticated and too smooth. Pleasant enough she smacked of polished professionalism while the young man was as ingenious as a peanut-butter sandwich. But never so bland. He implied a depth that the film couldn’t realize. It’s an old situation in which the actor is a notch above the film he’s in. His best work is yet to come.

The credits tell us there was lots and lots of music. You have to know popular music very well indeed to watch an interesting film and separate yourself enough to identify the music. This, too, is an old story. A movie isn’t a concert. The better the film and music, the less of the music you hear. It merely accents and enforces what you see in a more or less subconscious way. In a real sense, good film music is subliminal. This, of course, is retrospective. Were a composer to try to write a subliminal score, he’d find himself in trouble. It’s the sort of thing that happens.

Going back to the shirt-button line of thought: It was surprising to me that there wasn’t enough sex in such a minor film; it would have helped and, handled correctly, would have done no harm.

I read the word “sex” and realized all over again how loaded the word is. There’s all kinds of sex: raw, blunt, disgusting, exciting, tantalizing, amusing and on. When we saw a brief shot of the young man’s trouser front, I had hopes that something was about to be done that would contribute to today’s film entertainment. I had reason to. They don’t show men’s trouser fronts in film these days. That area is off limits. But that shot is an end in itself, and we go on to more pedestrian facets of U.S. romance in the great middle classes. It comes to the point where we are shown a pair of hands, male and female, entwined, and are required to imagine all the rest. It’s fraudulent. We go to movies to have them imagine for us. Fools that we are. The average movie belonging to the family film genre has little idea of real sexuality. They couldn’t be “sexy” if they had a gun pointed at their empty heads. Good sex is where—as in this film—the young man watches a girl dancing seductively, rolls his eyes heavenward, and digs his hand deep into his pockets. Up until then, no one ever suspected that this particular pallid young man might have an active pair of gonads rolling around inside in his briefs. The gesture was revealing, and the audience laughed sympathetically. I came within an ace of applauding.

Another new face to look for is the hero’s best friend [Steve Zahn]. A seasoned young actor with a pleasantly homely face, you’ll be seeing lots more of him, too, in the years to come.

April 3, 1999

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