From pretty much every conceivable angle, getting married is a pretty wonderful thing.
There’s all that true love forever after (well until the divorce papers are served; whoops, kinds broke the romantic spell there), committing yourself to that special someone, friends and family looking on, dressing up, dressing down (OK that’s way later), eating and drinking lots, and the start of the rest of your life.
And yet for all that wonder and fabulousness, there’s a whole lot of anxiety and worry and often unspoken musings about What a Big Deal This Is.
Unspoken unless you’re book jacket writing, plane-phobic Ben Holmes (Ben Affleck) and you’ve just met a wild, unpredictable woman (Sarah Lewis played by Sandra Bullock) who’s making you question pretty much everything you’ve taken for granted up to this point.
Like your nauseating love – it’s true; just ask his fellow plane passengers – for fiancée Bridget (Maura Tierney), a Savannah belle who has committed the unpardonable sin of falling for a New York City northerner or your lack of willingness to climb onto the top of stopped trains and scream at the sunset.
Or, and here’s a corker for an avowed heterosexual man, performing a sexy striptease in front of a bunch of enthusiastic gay men in small-ish town America.
That’s a whole lot of questioning to pack into two action-packed days but Ben manages it, egged on by Sarah who hasn’t yet met an unorthodox experience she doesn’t want to try on for size.
Sarah, as is the way of romantic comedy meet-cutes, meets Ben on a plane to Savannah from New York – he to get married, she to sell a bagel bakery and give the money to her estranged six year old son – and they hit it off immediately, with Ben rescuing an unconscious Sarah when their plane crashes off the runway.
This sets in motion a cavalcade of comedic events which runs the gamut from hitching a ride with a possible pedophile and definite drug user Vic (Jack Kehler), either having their worldly good stolen or left behind on a train, mixing it with a group of retired people on a bus to buy property in Florida all while pretending to be married and a doctor … and not getting anywhere close to Savannah for the wedding Ben isn’t even sure he wants anymore.
Sure two days is quick but it makes sense, well rom-com sense anyway and that’s all that matters here, that Ben would go from staid grey-suit wearing monogamous husband-to-be to a man who seriously considers dumping it all and running away with Sarah who has more than a few troubles of her own.
This is where Forces Of Nature, directed by Bronwen Hughes to a script by Marc Lawrence, shows it’s a tad smarter than the average rom-com.
In just about any other rom-com, Bridget would be shown to be some morally-questionable soul who doesn’t really deserve Ben’s (mostly) unwavering love and Sarah, though she has a chequered romantic and work history and isn’t the best mum in the world, would be shown to have a heart of gold behind her wild child persona.
All neat and tidy, our two protagonists ride away on a bus full of pensioners and the world celebrates two lovestruck soulmates finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Only that’s not how it goes and Forces of Nature is all the better for it.
It dares to ask whether meet-cutes are the be-all-and-end-all, especially ones which take place in exceptional situations are really all that.
In this instance, Sarah, who has everything to gain from winning Ben over – her choice in husbands isn’t the best and her love-torn travelling companion is a significant step up for her in innumerable ways – is the voice of reason, cautioning Ben not to get carried away despite the chemistry and obvious connection between them.
Ben, of course, doesn’t buy any of her wise words of caution but you know as he arrives in Savannah, late for the wedding which is being blown to smithereens by a hurricane, that Sarah will likely be proven, with quite a bit more life experience in the school of hard knocks behind her, to be the one who had her finger on the pulse.
That’s not say that she’s not tempted to run to Ben’s sane and sensible promised land but she’s wise enough to know that while Ben is in a maelstrom of doubt about love, monogamy and the whole forever package thanks to monogamy doubters like his grandfather, a fellow airline passenger, Vic and even his best man and best friend Alan (Steve Zahn), that he’s exactly the sort of person who can make monogamy and marriage work.
Sarah? Not so much sadly.
She is the most unlikely of rom-com in-love wannabes – garrulous and fun-loving sure but flighty, impetuous, spontaneous to a fault, a woman who can never quite get a good grip on the brass ring that dangles before her over and over but never quite swings into range.
Forces of Nature gives her a qualified happy ending of sorts but it’s not what you expect, nor is Ben’s final act what the rom-com gods normally hand down, and it lends the film way more gravitas than you expect it to have at the start.
Visually the film is a treat, weaving together some very cool scenes such as Ben and Sarah running through the rain, shot from above, every catchy moment paired with a rip-roaringly good late ’90s soundtrack that offers up gems from the likes of Touch & Go, Propellerheads, Swervedriver and Tricky.
Every single song seems to have its perfect moment in the cinematic sun, adding to the scene they’re in, bolstering the narrative rather than simply adorning it.
Thrown in some genuinely heartbreaking, melancholic moments, in a rom-com no less and Forces of Nature delivers an outlier story of romance that isn’t wholly beholding to the tropes, offers characters with some depth, and actually ventures a little into the grim realities of life.
Not a huge way – a grim tale of love lost this is not – but enough that what Ben and Sarah goes through feel joyously and painfully real all at once, added some much-needed authenticity and spicy to ye olde romantic comedy recipe.