Wedged quietly in between all those high-profile romantic comedies that established Meg Ryan as a star is this little treasure of a movie. I watched it a long time ago, liked it and then forgot all about it. This, of course, was back when I still thought that “You have two minutes to defuse this bomb!” was the height of literate dialogue.
Yesterday evening, it was on playing on TV and I had an opportunity to discover it, as it were. The movie is slow-paced, talky and manages to do something very interesting: it takes its eyes off what one would consider “the lead couple”. Rita (Meg Ryan) plays a bartender and Peter (Alex Baldwin) plays a publishing executive of some sort – they meet, fall in love and get married. The initial scenes depicting their meeting and romance give us the idea that they are something of an odd couple, given how different they are. We have no idea. At the wedding, an unknown, unrecognized old man who seems to have crashed the party walks up to the couple, congratulates them and asks if he could kiss the bride. She agrees and they kiss briefly. And somehow, during that kiss, their personalities get interchanged.
Now, most movies would take the screwball route from here on. The good ones would be called Freaky Friday, and the bad ones would be called The Hot Chick. This one, however, takes it slowly, seriously and a heck of a lot more interestingly. For one thing, the old man is a lot older and weaker, so his pace is where the proceedings are pitched at. There are the obligatory scenes where Peter realizes that his wife is, quite literally, a changed woman. But it is when he meets the old man Julius (Sydney Walker) and realizes what happens that the movie really takes off. The scenes between the two men have a tenderness that supersedes romance.
For me, the high point is this quiet moment when Julius wants to reach up and touch a low-hanging leaf of a tree, a habit of Rita’s.However, as the saying goes, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. So Peter, ever so gently, gives him a helping hand.