MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE is a handsome, thoughtful, but morally flawed, date movie with many admirable elements. Robin Wright Penn plays a Chicago journalist who falls in love with the author of a love letter found in a bottle, written by a shipbuilder in North Carolina played by Kevin Costner. Patience, love, forgiveness, honesty, and even prayers are all practiced, but some obscenities and a scene of fornication flaw this movie.
Romantic worldview with many moral elements including letting go of the past, forgiveness, prayers, self-sacrifice, & familial love; 14 mostly mild obscenities, 8 profanities & some mild sexual humor; no violence but a scary boat accident; briefly depicted fornication; women in underwear & upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, lying & deception.
The legend has been around for so long, it is a wonder that a movie hasn’t been made about it sooner. A man, stranded on an island, casts out onto the sea a message for salvation in a corked bottle, hoping that someone will find it and rescue him. Though some of the details are a little different, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE tells this story as a handsome, thoughtful date movie with many admirable elements. It positions itself as a sort of comeback vehicle for an actor with dubious-as-of-late box office draw, Kevin Costner.
The story begins with Theresa Osborne (Robin Wright Penn) sending off her son, Jason, to spend some time with her former husband. Theresa hides her pain of this failed relationship by being a dependable, quietly driven career woman at The Chicago Tribune, where she works as a researcher. One day, out on a jog on the shores of Lake Michigan, she sees a bottle halfway buried in the sand. Inside is a message, a moving, passionate letter sent to a woman named Catherine, and only signed “G.” The letter’s poetry, emotion, heartache, and honesty stir her, and she begins a search for the author. This search leads her to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to a sailboat builder named Garret Blake (Costner). Though Theresa goes to Garret in the guise of professional research, she hopes to discover the passion inside him that prompted such beautiful language.
Since the death of his wife Catherine, Garret has led a solitary existence, except for his complicated relationship with his father, Dodge (Paul Newman). Garret has kept Catherine’s art studio just the way it was when she died two years ago. However, Dodge has been attempting to wrest his son away from his grief for Catherine. When Theresa arrives, Garret is slowly drawn out of his shell and begins to open up to her. In fact, the two fall in love. They spend a few wonderful days in North Carolina, but Catherine tells him she needs to return home.
Throughout it all, Theresa can’t bring herself to tell Garret that she was sent to him on assignment for The Tribune. She can’t tell him that his letter was published (her editor’s idea). Garret comes to visit Theresa in Chicago, they consummate their love, and he returns home. In reality, Garret fluctuates between his love for his former wife and his love for Theresa. Dodge tells him, “You chose – the past or the future. Pick one and stick with it.” Garret takes a trip to sea on his newly crafted boat to sort out his love life and meets unexpected trouble, bringing resolution to his inner conflict.
Like last year’s THE HORSE WHISPERER, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE features slow, thoughtful conversations of getting over tremendous loss. The grief cycle and letting go of pain is fully explored. The movie is commendable in that Garret’s father is an authority figure in his life, who speaks the truth to him, forcefully at times, but always in love. Patience, love, forgiveness, honesty, and even prayers are all practiced. Greatest of all is an expression of self-sacrifice. No stranger to movies involving water, Costner fills the shoes of a shipbuilder well. Newman shines in a small, but complicated and sassy role. Likewise, Penn acts with conviction and determination. Perhaps the biggest star is the North Carolina coast with its Old World marinas and cottages.
The major flaw to this movie is the elevation of romantic love. What is a romance movie without romance, but romance in and of itself becomes idolatrous. This movie seems to show Garret making an idol out of his deceased wife, which even his father recognizes as entrapping and unhealthy. His obsession with her is the major dramatic conflict of the movie. Furthermore, despite Theresa telling him a great deal about her own life, his attraction to her becomes a little sudden and forced. Eventually and regrettably, they decide to fornicate, which is depicted briefly. Essentially, both Theresa and Garret are hurt people, who seek comfort in each other’s arms, all of which began with a frilly letter to a dead woman.
As a book, MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE is a love story that spent more than a year on The New York Times Bestsellers List and eventually sold more than 850,000 hardcover copies. Yes, love, patience, self-sacrifice should be celebrated, and, yes, love can happen more than once in a life time, but MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE confuses romance and lust with love and neglects a greater and truer love, which no person of the opposite sex can fulfill.
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