Message in a Bottle

Here is the story of Message in a Bottle, directed by Luis Madoki. A
desperately sad widower and boat-builder, the strikingly handsome Garret Blake
(Kevin Costner), puts letters to his dead wife in bottles and throws the bottles
into the sea. They are found by a beautiful young, unattached single mother
called Theresa (Robin Wright Penn) who, on the strength of them, falls in love
with the writer. She works in the research department of the Chicago
and, with the encouragement of her lovably curmudgeonly editor,
Charlie (Robbie Coltrane), and her lovably girlish best friend, Lina (Ileana
Douglas), she tracks him down to his picturesque home on the Outer Banks of
North Carolina. There, despite the fact that he does not speak with a Carolinean
accent, Garret has lived almost all his life.

Next door lives his lovably curmudgeonly father, Dodge (Paul Newman), who is
supposed to be a retired fisherman though he, too, talks like a Yankee and looks
far more dapper and soigné than any old fisherman I’ve ever seen.
Instead of telling Garret that she has come about the letters, Theresa pretends
to be an ordinary tourist. Within days she has induced him to fall as deeply in
love with her as she already is with him. She returns to Chicago. He follows
her. But—wouldn’t you know it?—he finds the letters in her drawer
and accuses her of deceiving him, and of reading letters intended for the dead
wife. He also finds there a letter that the now dead wife had written and thrown
into the sea. It tells him how much she loved him. This softens his wrath. Then
his lovable old curmudgeon of a father tells him that he has to choose between
the past and the present. He chooses, but fate takes a hand. . .

Now see if you can tell what’s wrong with this picture.

Of course, a guy who throws love letters to his dead wife into the ocean,
sealed up in a bottle, is not grieving but engaging in emotional exhibitionism.
Those letters were meant to be found, and meant to be found by exactly the sort
of person who did find them. “Why did you do this?” he moans at her in mock
anger. Because you invited her to do it, dummy! Garret’s getting angry at her
for not telling him that she found the letters, and for coming between him and
his precious grief, is silly and bogus, as is almost everything else about this
movie. Although it purports to be about a widower’s grief for his dead wife, it
isn’t really at all. It’s really just to allow Kevin Costner another chance at
defining the look of the sensitive male of the 90s. Once more he is striking
romantic attitudes, which is what he does instead of acting.

But the grief doesn’t look like grief. It doesn’t have that messiness, those
jagged edges. This is grief sentimentalized, just as the Outer Banks, played by
Maine, are sentimentalized by the picture-post-card photography. The emotion
like the pictures is meant to be seen. This is grief as a means of picking up
chicks. “It’s so beautiful, the way you love her; it’s what made me want to find
you,” says Theresa swooningly. Gee, I’ll bet old Garret never would have guessed
that she’d feel like that! The question is, would Costner have guessed it? If
so, he is just cynically exploiting false emotion, like an author of cheap
romance novels. But I’m guessing that he’s dumber than that. The fact that he
has made so many disastrous artistic misjudgments of the same kind suggest that
he doesn’t even know he’s a phony. It is very much to his credit.

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