Is it possible for someone to love too much? Is being overly romantic a severe character flaw? Those are a few questions posed by Message in a Bottle, an adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ romantic novel. It is schlocky and disposable at times, but makes for a decent romantic diversion.
Theresa Osborne (Robin Wright Penn) is a research assistant for a prominent columnist at a Chicago paper. One day, while on vacation, she discovers something interesting: (you guessed it) a message in a bottle. This particular message is a hopelessly romantic love letter from a man to his dead wife.
Theresa becomes obsessed with the letter, and convinces her boss at the paper to let her track down the author. It’s not revealing too much to say that in a rather short amount of time, she does. The man is one Garret Blake (Kevin Costner), a North Carolina man who restores boats for a living.
So, Theresa hops a jet and finds herself in North Carolina, looking for this man of passion, and falling hopelessly in love (even before setting eyes upon him). But Garret still pines for his dead wife, and is unsure if there is room in his heart for another love.
Nearly everything in this film seems distant and adrift. This disconectedness works alright for the beginning. But, even after Theresa and Garret meet, and romance begins to bloom, there is never a sense of immediacy to the couple or their relationship.
Kevin Costner’s laconic style is on full display here. It seems to fit a man pining for his lost love, but isn’t as suited for a man finding a new love. Robin Wright Penn is strangely subdued while playing what is, when you think about it, a stalker. There is some chemistry between the pair, but the whole thing never gets hotter than a slow burn.
The one thing that does bring a jolt of life to the film is Paul Newman, playing Garret’s catankerous father, Dodge. He’s given all the film’s best lines, and even when they’re not given to him, he takes them anyway and makes each scene in which he appears his. The fire and skill with which he crafts his character puts all the other actors in this film to shame (even though they’re not doing that shabby of a job).
The entire plot of Message in a Bottle is clearly telegraphed several scenes ahead. Even when the film takes a sharp left turn into melodrama, it doesn’t catch you completely by surprise.
On the whole, what Message in a Bottle needs is a little energy. Just as Paul Newman enlivened what could have been a stock, throwaway character with a spark of vitality, so too could the whole film used an extra burst of life.