The Bachelor (1999)

D: Gary Sinyor
S: Chris O'Donnell, Renée Zellweger

Despite the fanciful co-directing and co-screenwriting credits to Buster Keaton, this remake of Seven Chances is a more or less standard-issue romantic comedy with some nice moments, plenty of energy, and a surprising amount of old-fashioned sexism. The plot concerns restless bachelor Chris O'Donnell (Batman and Robin) whose view of himself as the last of a dying breed of masculine free spirits is threatened by his encounter with the beautiful Renée Zellweger (Empire Records). Problems ensue when he blunders his marriage proposal (possibly out of a hidden desire to remain single in the first place), and his elderly grandfather (Peter Ustinov) dies, leaving a troublesome will. It seems our hero must marry within twenty-four hours or he will not only loose his $100 million inheritance, but the family business will collapse and be sold off to corporate raiders. When even this incentive fails to galvanise O'Donnell into a proper proposal to Zellweger, who then leaves town in a huff without knowing about the inheritance, O'Donnell embarks on a quest to find a willing bride among his many female acquaintances and past girlfriends, climaxing with scenes where he is literally pursued by hundreds of willing brides-to-be in true Buster Keaton style.

The supporting cast includes Ed Asner, Hal Holbrook, Peter Ustinov, James Cromwell, Brooke Shields, and Mariah Carey; a bizarre line up which raises some interesting questions of its own. However, O'Donnell is relatively likable in the lead, Zellweger is suitably fetching as his would-be soul mate, and the whole film pulsates with an up-tempo vibe which carries it more or less all the way through, despite the fact that Keaton did it in half the time. It is quite funny, and generally engaging (pardon the pun), but it is strange how much of the humour revolves around sexist caricatures of the various women in O'Donnell's life. Most of the gags centre on set pieces which introduce the ladies in question, and around conversations about them between O'Donnell and his co-conspirators. Almost all of these observations are spiteful or sarcastic, and each encounter only further re-inforces O'Donnell's convictions about them. From the ice maiden hilariously portrayed by Brooke Shields to the butch lady cop and the clingy window dresser, these are hardly paragons of femininity, funny though they may be. Though the central thematic thread is about developing a mature perspective on other people and extending your definition of self to incorporate another person, it's hardly an advertisement for political correctness. Of course this does make it a guilty pleasure, but it is unlikely to endear it to female viewers, who may not find it so easy to pass off as harmless entertainment. Yet there are one or two good points about contemporary male-female relations (particularly the scene where O'Donnell is confronted in a church by hundreds of women who berate him for his preferences), and our hero is generally portrayed as more pitiably slef-deluded than swaggeringly self-confident.

Director Gary Sinyor is probably best remembered for co-directing the truly off-the-wall Leon the Pig Farmer. This film is considerably more conventional than that, but it does have plenty of energy, some visual style, and features re-creations of some classic comic scenes. The story works surprisingly well in a nineties context, though what that says for the nineties male is another question. O'Donnell holds the centre well, and Sinyor matches the pace and tone to his performance. There are also unique pleasures in the performances of Ustinov, Holbrook, and Asner for those who remember them from another time and place. Cromwell is amusing as a stone-faced priest who eventually provides soulful guidance. On the whole the film is not as fresh and funny as My Best Friend's Wedding, but it is a generally watchable contemporary romantic comedy with some quirks which should provide the requisite entertainment for casual viewers, provided their misogyny detectors are not too sensitive.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.