THREE STARS - Thoughtful
The romantic belief that there is one special person “out there” with whom we are destined to fall madly in love can become like a religion by which many live their lives. Worshiping at the altar of romantic illusions, these people spend their lives either lonesomely waiting for the perfect person, or leave a trail of discarded lovers in the wake of their frustrated search.
“Till There Was You” is a romantic tale exploring the journey of such a pilgrim.
Establishing the truth that the child adopts her parents’ beliefs, the tale begins with Gwendolyn Moss (Jeanne Tripplehorn) as a young girl being told a bedtime story by her mother of her parents’ first meeting. It is a tale full of the specifics and embellishments of which romance is made. But the teaching around which Gwen centers her life is the belief that she, too, will find and marry the perfect man.
If Gwen was raised in romance, Nick Dawkan (Dylan McDermott) was raised in tragedy.
The son of an alcoholic father and a distant mother, Nick grows up as an emotionally unavailable person whose troubled internal landscape becomes evident in his garish architectural creations.
Both Gwen and Nick as children turn to a “Brady Bunch” family on TV as a model for their future lives. Through this TV sitcom, Gwen nurtures her romantic dreams and Nick salves his tragic home life.
Later in the film, the star of this childhood show, Francesca Lanefield (Jessica Parker) is woven into the real lives of both Gwen and Nick. Rather than being the sweet fantasy child from the TV show, she now ends up in both of their lives as a self-absorbed spoiled twenty-something. Gwen is writing her biography and Nick is seduced into her bed.
This exemplifies both the genius and the difficulty of the film. It presents such an intricate weaving of all the characters that it is not only sometimes difficult to follow, but it requires the viewers to work at making the connections. But for those who work at it, it is a fabric woven so colorfully that the viewers pleasure is intensified.
Since Nick is an architect, the film uses his creative process to express the differences between Gwen and Nick.
Nick creates a surreal restaurant called “The Awful Truth.” Its colors and textures are metallic and its tables, walls and art are jagged and dangerous. When Gwen first encounters this place, her romantic senses are unable to navigate its dangers and she repeatedly injures herself.
Compare this locale with Gwen’s chosen home which is a California courtyard complex centered around a peaceful fountain. Filled with eccentric romantics whose lives weave illusion with reality, she is a natural addition into their community.
It is this romantic setting which eventually draws Nick and Gwen together.
As romantic tales go, Nick becomes the architect in charge of the building which is to replace Gwen’s Eden. When Gwen begins to write protest letters to the editor describing the meaning of this home to the lives of the community, she awakens Nick’s soul.
Their attraction, as natural as it seems though, is a stark contrast to just about everyone else we meet. What we see throughout this film are people of all ages who live in the fantasy that they will "live happily ever after" once they find their destined mate.
This is the experience of so many people who are seeking to overcome their loneliness. They wait, sometimes into their 80's, for their fantasy to arrive, and then wonder where their life went wrong.
Gwen approaches each of her boyfriends with the thought that "everything in my life has led up to this moment", just like it happened with her mom. Her wake-up call arrives, though, when she finds out from her father that, in fact, he had a completely different impression of how he met Gwen's mother: "I actually didn't love her, but I've lived with her for 35 years because I didn't want to hurt her feelings or have an argument."
It is unsettling when after exposing the false hope that living in fantasy brings, the film ends with Nick and Gwen realizing that they were each other's "destiny."
Fantasizing a dream-like hope because we are a "romantic" keeps that hope elusive. Real love is found and built upon a foundation of spiritual and emotional strength given to another without any strings attached.