Hollywood has recently renewed its love affair with romantic comedies. Ever since Sleepless in Seattle proved that a film need not be too plot-heavy to be bankable, more and more attempts to cash in on cinematic romance have been surfacing, and few of them are successful. The problem is that Hollywood is trying to put the plot back into the romance, and still hasn?t found firm legs to stand on. Take Love Affair, I Love Trouble, and its newest offering which opened this past weekend, Speechless.
Speechless stars Geena Davis and Michael Keaton as two speech writers for opposing candidates running for the New Mexico Senate. They become interested in each other while unaware that the other is the political enemy, and among a backdrop of campaign hustle and bustle, they try to form a relationship, knowing their campaigns forbid fraternizing with the opposing candidate?s staff. Complicating the matter is Davis? uncertainty about her on-again off-again fiancee, played by Christopher Reeve.
Keaton and Davis have good chemistry between them. Keaton turns in a better performance than Davis with his dry wit and lovable smartass quality. Opposite him, Davis (who co-produced the film with husband Renny Harlin) seems too sincere to be a ten-year veteran of the world of politics. Her comebacks are delivered with too much heart and not enough sarcasm. In other supporting roles, Bonnie Bedelia has some good moments as Keaton?s ex-wife and co-worker, while Reeve (having a major bad hair film) is adequate but forgettable as the other side of the Keaton-Davis love triangle.
Speechless fluctuates back and forth between syrupy romantic comedy and fast-paced political movie, unable to decide which it wants to be. We would expect Keaton and Davis, as sassy writers with a mutual mistrust for one another, to have a wittier manner of speech and incorporate more biting quips into their exchanges. Instead, the two discuss liking to look at feet, and cures for insomnia. When the film gets more into its political side, it excels: as one candidate gets a step ahead, the other volleys back with even fuller force, driven by the growing passion of Davis and Keaton and their competitive speech writing. The film is even clever enough to get satirical about local news reporting, and manages to work this into the campaign plot with ease. Another clever sequence involves the lovers-to-be in front of a group of students having an argument under the guise of a lecture. The film then takes their comic combat one step further by having their conflict translate verbatim into the subsequent speeches of their respective candidates the following day.
But even the film?s political cleverness is eventually weakened by the contrived romance, unfortunately when it should be snowballing like the impending election itself. The film?s climax - at the victory party for the winning candidate - tries to have us believe that an entire mob of cheering people can be silenced with unexpected music and involve themselves in an argument taking place over the loudspeaker as though they have something at stake. Such a scene would have worked in a less intelligent movie; its presence in Speechless borders on the embarrassing. At the end, when Keaton and Davis run through the crowd for their big final embrace, only then do the red white and blue balloons descend from the ceiling, making us assume that the candidate?s presence at this party wasn?t that important anyway.
Speechless is disappointing in that it possesses two of the most important qualities necessary for a successful film: well-rounded characters, and a well-constructed plot. What is missing is the marrying of the two, and the film wrongly tries to emphasize the romance, when its strength lies in its politics. As Hollywood tries to keep romance alive while still presenting us with interesting and new stories, hopefully it will catch on that in the best films, romantic overtones grow out of plot situations, and cannot be heavily planned or forced. In the meantime, rent What?s Up Doc? or His Girl Friday.
[from The Watermark, 1994-12-17]