ReView: Experience A Change of Heart in ‘Return to Me’

Writer Eliza Thomas walks through the Chicago-set rom-com “Return to Me.”

Hot on the coattails of the Golden Age of rom-coms, Bonnie Hunt’s 2000 film “Return to Me” may be outlandish, but it’s sure to make viewers’ hearts sing.

This film isn’t a hard-hitter when compared to renowned classics like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Notting Hill,” but it has an irresistible charm that draws the audience in scene by scene.

“Return to Me” begins with lovesick architect Bob Rueland, played by David Duchovny, experiencing extreme tragedy when his wife is killed in a car accident. Later that same night, terminally-ill Grace Briggs, played by Minnie Driver, is finally receiving the heart transplant she desperately needs to survive. 

I’ll give you one guess whose heart she received.

About one year later, through the magical powers of fate, Grace and Bob meet at Grace’s family’s Irish-Italian restaurant in the heart of Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. Both are inexplicably drawn to one another, courtesy of Bob’s wife’s heart. In the following months, a courtship unfolds.

Unrealistic and improbable, the plotline was too alluring to stop me from watching. Without the earnest acting, lovable characters and wonderfully nostalgic soundtrack, this movie would be exhaustingly hard to watch.

It’s a quintessential ‘90s rom-com complete with characters with full-time jobs yet loads of free time, wind-free weather and a naturally stunning lead with an annoyingly perfect head of curls — even when she’s been caught watering plants in her shower cap.

The film’s plot shouldn’t have worked out, yet the execution somehow makes it impossible to dislike.

Leading actors Driver (“Good Will Hunting,” “Grosse Pointe Blank”) and Duchovny (“The X Files,” “Californication”) deliver a wonderfully heartfelt performance. Their chemistry is tangibly genuine. Rather than the effortless confidence commonly portrayed by the average rom-com love interest, the relationship between Grace and Bob is awkward and candid.

The supporting characters’ subplots made the movie worth the watch. Grace’s best friend Megan, along with Grace’s grandfather Marty, portray a warmth that is simply magnetic.

Marty, played by Carrol O’Connor, and his club of gossipy friends spend their days closing the restaurant absurdly early to sit around, play cards and argue over whether Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin is the “King of Pop.”

Megan (played by director Hunt) is constantly balancing her seemingly unending number of children with her short-fused and sassy husband, Joe (Jim Belushi). Both Hunt and Belushi offer wry and sarcastic one-liners of advice to Driver’s romantic dilemma throughout the film. 

The film’s subplots are just as endearing as the main one — without them, the film would definitely fall flat. They emphasize the sense of family and community that has been built around Grace. The audience can tell that she is well-loved by people who just want her to be happy.

This film doesn’t take any big risks, it doesn’t use the setting to tell a story and it isn’t pushing any boundaries or asking any big questions. It’s a quintessential feel-good movie, and I believe there’s some serious merit in that.

A film doesn’t have to be deep or metaphorical or say something about a bigger concept in order to be valued. The ending has the audience believing in true love, feeling an overwhelming appreciation for the friends and family in their lives and hopeful that life can be as beautiful and rewarding as it was in the film.

“Return to Me” is available to rent or purchase on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime.

“ReView” is a recurring film review column 

Featured image courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Eliza Thomas

Eliza Thomas