THREE STARS - Charming
Most private citizens are thankful that their failures and sins are not front-page news. Unlike those in public life who are so often humiliated under the excuse of Free Speech, private citizens do not expect to become the victims of a national paper’s reporters. But in “Runaway Bride,” that is just what happens.
The film begins with the frantic search of USA Today columnist Ike Graham (Richard Gere) to find a topic for his next column. Known for stereotyping women, he coincidentally crosses the path of a man who has just been left standing at the altar by a bride who has done this several times before. Without checking his facts, Graham jumps on the idea of a “runaway bride” and defames Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts) of the small town of Hale, Maryland.
When Maggie reads the column, she thinks it is the practical joke of her bridesmaids in her upcoming, fourth trip to the altar. But when she finds that it is real and has been published throughout the nation, she writes a strong letter in response which questions the facts of the column and costs Graham his job as a reporter.
Eager to get his job back, Graham travels to Hale to get the real story behind the column. It is there that he falls in love.
Told with humor and a love for puns that makes for wonderful comedy, “Runaway Bride” explores the public humiliation of Maggie’s indecisiveness and the healing of her weakness.
Although Graham sets out to further expose Maggie’s “man-hating” behavior by interviewing the three men she left standing at the altar, he is unprepared for the seductive nature of her malleability.
Unsure of who she really is, Maggie has developed the ability to become the woman each man wants her to be. Indicative of this fact is that she chooses to eat her breakfast exactly like the man she is engaged to marry.
This adaptability makes Maggie a wonderful date and flirt, but she is aware at a deeply denied level that she does not love the men she is meeting at the altar to marry. So, at the last moment, she runs away from the wedding. In one, she rides away on the back of a motorcycle, in another, she drags the young boy holding the train of her wedding dress, and in another she rides away on her stallion to achieve her freedom.
It is this public exposure of her weakness which is the focus of the film.
For most of us, our failures and weaknesses are not expressed at such public moments. But for Maggie, all of her family and friends have gathered three times for her wedding day, only to see her flee from the scene.
Understandably, she has become the joke of her family and of the small town of Hale.
But Graham changes all that. A man of intelligence and charm, who has nevertheless run from his own marriage, Graham comes to bury Maggie in the coffin of his written words. But what he did not expect was the endearing charm of a woman who is simply trying to find love in her life.
After breaking into his apartment and discovering the “man-hating” theme of his assumptions about her, Maggie decides to open herself to Graham so he can truly understand her. To do so, Graham and Maggie spend the next few days together as Maggie prepares to marry groom number four.
In a moving scene in which Maggie’s friends and family have thrown a luau to celebrate her upcoming marriage, the toasts which are given are all at her expense. Seeing the pain beneath her smile, Graham toasts the group by wishing that all of them would have their sins and failures be made public and that they would be humiliated by them.
Seeing himself as the defender of her honor, Graham is confused when Maggie runs from the party in tears. In a perceptive conversation alone, it is clear that he has broken through her denial and forced her to face the reality of her life. In anger, she returns the favor and forces Graham to do the same.
This is perhaps the power of humiliation: it provides a powerful impetus for change. The shame we feel can only be restored by a public act which reverses the previous behaviors. Although we won’t spoil the ending of the film by explaining how this is true, it is a wonderful message full of hope and renewal.
“Runaway Bride” is a film with which any of us can identify. Being who we really are within our love relationships is a difficult task no matter what our self-awareness and maturity. But if we do not know who we are, and try to be whatever we think others want us to be, then we are incapable of making the life-long commitments love requires.