"Grace has Bob’s dead wife’s heart!" sums up Return to Me, possibly the world’s longest commercial for organ donation. Donating a deceased loved one’s organs is a noble act that should be done more often, and the movie uses the plot device to smarten an otherwise fluffy plotline.
Return to Me follows Bob Rueland (David Duchovny), an architect blissfully in love with his zoologist wife Elizabeth (Joely Richardson). Across town is Grace Briggs (Minnie Driver) who needs a heart transplant in order to live. As customary in most romantic comedies, a twist of fate brings the two main characters together. In this case, it is a car accident that kills Bob’s wife. Bob donates Elizabeth’s organs and Grace is the lucky recipient of Elizabeth’s heart. One year later, Bob is still grieving and reluctant to move on. In contrast, Grace is enjoying life and planning a trip to Italy. Even though Grace has a new lease on life, she is still sheltered by her grandfather who owns O’Reilly’s, possibly the world’s only Irish-Italian restaurant. Bob is eventually persuaded by his friend Charlie (David Alan Grier) to start dating again and agrees to meet a blind date at O’Reilly’s.
Predictably, Bob and Grace meet and are instantly attracted to each other not knowing their deeper connection. The two hit it off, but Grace is hesitant about telling Bob about her operation to the point of wearing high-necked shirts to cover up the surgical scar. Grace then discovers the letter she mailed to express her gratitude for the heart in Bob’s house. Shaken by this discovery, Grace is forced to tell Bob about her heart surgery and their connection. Bob leaves and Grace flees for Italy. Both miss each other horribly and Bob chases her down to profess his love.
Return to Me is a calculated step for Duchovny to distance himself from The X-Files and achieve greater fame. He shows more range and ability than on The X-Files, but at times, his cheerfulness appears forced. Driver’s performance is good, especially when showing her dilemma about someone else dying in order for her to receive a heart. But her performance suffers because the exposition is focused more on Bob’s life before the accident than hers. It’s hard to compare Grace before and after the surgery because there isn’t a before part.
Even though Return to Me follows a plotline that has been done better, many times before, it plays with an innocence akin to a fairy tale. The two maintain a chaste relationship that neither finds problematic. The friends that surround the two are not flamboyantly weird, but normal people who try to make sure Bob and Grace end up together. Chicago, Grace’s garden and Italy are shown as having a magical quality, able to transform love into some greater entity. It makes you believe you could meet the love of your life if only you could convince a loved one to donate their vital organs.
Return to Me has all the right parts to make a romantic comedy. It has two attractive lead players, a plot device to keep them apart, quirky friends, and a short trip to some exotic locale. In the end, it is only a fluffy stress reliever, ready to take us away from the harsh reality of finals.