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(1999) (Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn) (PG-13)

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Drama: Moved by a letter found inside an ocean sent bottle, a woman sets out to find the author, and upon doing so, begins a cautious, but passionate romance with him.
Theresa Osborne (ROBIN WRIGHT PENN) is a researcher at the Chicago Tribune. A recent divorcee, she cares for her son, Jason (JESSE JAMES), and lives for her work, all done to mask her disappointment at her failed marriage.

Taking a brief seaside vacation while Jason visits his father, Theresa finds a near buried bottle that contains a passionate letter to a woman named Catherine, and signed only with the letter "G." Touched by the letter's poetical pathos, Theresa shares it with her coworker, Lina Paul (ILLEANA DOUGLAS), prompting a columnist, Charlie Toschi (ROBBIE COLTRANE), to print a story on it. Reader letters consequently pour in, and Theresa learns that similar bottled messages have been found.

Using her research skills, she soon tracks down the author, Garret Blake (KEVIN COSTNER), a solitary sailboat builder who lives on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Posing as a tourist, Theresa visits him there, where she meets his gruff father, Dodge (PAUL NEWMAN), and learns that Garret still pines for his wife who died two years earlier.

As the two become friends and a romance begins to bud, Theresa must deal with her growing feelings toward Garret, while he must contend with that as well as his father and former brother- in-law, Johnny Land (JOHN SAVAGE), both of whom want him to give up Catherine for different reasons.

If they're fans of the high profile cast, or of emotional, romantic dramas, they just might, but preteens will probably have little interest in it.
For a scene of sexuality.
  • KEVIN COSTNER plays a solitary boat builder who still grieves for and can't give up his dead wife, but does enter into a cautious and tenuous romance with Theresa (and sleeps with her).
  • ROBIN WRIGHT PENN plays a divorced, single mom who falls for a man she's researching (and ends up sleeping with him).
  • PAUL NEWMAN plays Garret's gruff father, a recovering alcoholic who wants his son to move on with his life.


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    As slow and laid-back as the lifestyle on North Carolina's Outer Banks where much of its story is set, "Message in a Bottle" is a dramatically solid but certainly less than surprising romantic tearjerker. Aimed squarely at the typical audience that reads melodramatic romance novels while vacationing at such a seaside destination, the film borders on melodrama -- especially toward its somewhat contrived ending -- but otherwise serves its purpose of working up the emotions of those falling into the fairer gender.

    Based on the novel by Nicolas Sparks' best seller of the same name, the film succeeds mainly due to its stellar cast and their solid and -- for some -- charismatic performances. Although we're referring to the supporting roles that are by far the most enjoyable -- especially when compared with the dour and cautious characters played by the leads -- everyone involved is good.

    That's not to say, however, that they're always believable, and we're specifically calling attention to the role of Garret in that regard. While the character, as played by Kevin Costner in his second boating feature (the other being "Waterworld"), is, for the most part, still realistically grief stricken, certain elements don't always play out as believably.

    While he understandably hasn't moved his deceased wife's belongings since the day of her untimely death, it's extremely unlikely under those circumstances that he'd invite a woman over to his -- and his wife's -- home for dinner, or would fall for her so quickly and easily. While some resistance does finally show up, I never fully bought into the way his character was presented. Although I appreciate -- in theory -- the contradictory feelings confronting him and the dramatic complications they cause, in practice it doesn't feel or unfold in a believable enough fashion.

    Beyond that, there's a certain "prop" that's improbably stored in an extremely unlikely place -- considering the invitation for a character to share that room and the harsh ramifications should the prop be discovered -- and an unnecessary twist at the film's end that are too convenient and collectively come mighty close to mawkish melodrama.

    While the first is present to add a dramatic complication and the latter was obviously inserted to shamelessly elicit tears, both moments seem too artificially constructed to be as effective as the filmmakers' apparently want them to be.

    Fortunately for the film and its audience, an attractive and talented cast has been employed to carry the otherwise predictable and slow-moving affair. While many have criticized Kevin Costner ("Dances With Wolves," "No Way Out") in the past (specifically for roles not entirely suited for his acting range and style -- and for everything to do with "The Postman"), he gives a solid performance here (notwithstanding the afore mentioned character problems).

    Likewise, Robin Wright Penn ("Forrest Gump," "Hurlyburly") is very good as the romantically cautious, single mom character, and her performance here may lead to more higher profile leading parts in the future.

    The best performances, however, are reserved for the supporting cast members whose only drawback is that they're unfortunately shortchanged regarding their time on screen. The incomparable Paul Newman ("Nobody's Fool," "Cool Hand Luke") is always a delight to catch anytime he appears in a new -- or for that matter, old -- film, and he delivers a fun take here as the gruff, old man father figure. Meanwhile, the vastly underused Illeana Douglas (regarding both this and other films) is enjoyable as Theresa's coworker and best friend, while Robbie Coltrane is good in an even briefer role.

    While the film manages to efficiently and, for the most part, effectively deliver its goods, one can't help but feel that Sparks' original novel probably works much better, especially when considering that its story is obviously afforded more time to develop and properly explore the characters and their behavior.

    That theory is somewhat proven by the fact that the film's strongest moments are those where the poetic and previously bottled messages are read aloud. Clearly featuring more depth and resonance than anything else that occurs, they exude that narrative feel more often found in novels than films (the latter being much more of a visual than literary medium) and certainly exceed anything else this film tries to muster.

    Of course, different moviegoers will obviously react differently to this film, with women most likely more favorably accepting and appreciating the proceedings than the men they drag along with them to see it. Although it's not a horrible film by any means and the great cast certainly makes it easy to watch, its slow pace and occasional near melodramatic moments may make this too much of a "chick flick" for some viewers. We give "Message in a Bottle" a 5.5 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated film. One scene shows the main characters in the throes of passion, and while we don't see any explicit nudity or movement, some limited movement occurs and/or is strongly suggested. We also see the two in other scenes cuddled up under the covers together, but no hanky-panky is otherwise suggested.

    1 "s" word and a relatively small assortment of other words, phrases and religious terms occur, and a moderate amount of drinking takes place (with a supporting character labeled as a recovering alcoholic).

    Thematic issues of divorced parents, and the death of loved ones (and one's reaction to that) are also explored during the film. Beyond some bad feelings between Garret and his former in-laws (that lead to a brief but physical fight), the rest of the film is relatively void of major objectionable material. Should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness, however, you may want to take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • Theresa has a glass of wine next to her while reading.
  • Garret and Dodge have beers.
  • Theresa brings wine for dinner at Garret's home, where he already has wine open and the two have some. Later, she admits that she had too much wine because she was nervous.
  • Garret and Theresa have more wine.
  • Garret returns home from the store carrying a bag and a six-pack of beer.
  • Garret and Theresa have wine with a meal while Dodge has a beer.
  • We learn that Dodge is a recovering alcoholic (he says that he used to "drink like a fish") and that he now limits himself to two beers a day.
  • The couple has wine with dinner.
  • Garret, Dodge and their former in-laws have beers at a boat launching.
  • None.
  • Although we only hear about it, Theresa's husband had both for having an affair while married to her.
  • Both Catherine's family (who've taken Garret to court over Catherine's paintings and claim he's responsible for her death) and Garret (who refuses to give up those paintings) have some of both.
  • Some may see Theresa as having some of both for not telling Garret the truth about her visit.
  • A brief fight scene between Garret and Johnny may be a bit tense to some viewers.
  • Dodge threatens to slice up one of Catherine's paintings after Garret and her family argue about them.
  • A storm at sea scene (that goes on for several minutes) where Garret tries to rescue a family from their disabled ship and the ocean may also be suspenseful to some viewers.
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Pissed off," "Sucks," "Pain in the ass" and "Shut up."
  • None.
  • A bit of dramatic music plays during a boat rescue scene set during a storm at sea.
  • None.
  • At least 1 "s" word, 10 hells, 4 asses (1 used with "hole"), 2 S.O.B.s, 2 damns, and 3 uses each of "G-damn" and "For Christ's sakes," 2 each of "Oh God," "Swear to God" and "God" and 1 use each of "Jesus," "Oh Lord" and "My God" as exclamations.
  • After a woman tells Theresa, "You know what they say about tall, lanky men..." she responds, "They have enormous feet" (a reference to a more commonly held myth about a different part of a man's anatomy).
  • Wondering if Theresa works for "Playboy" upon first meeting her, Dodge says that he never bought the magazine but always admired their covers.
  • Although it seems that all they do is cuddle, Theresa gets up from the sofa and climbs under the covers with Garret. Later, we see them together under a blanket on his sailboat.
  • Theresa tells Garret that Jason has a sleep-over with some friends, and the next night we see them in her bedroom together. She removes her pants (we see her in her underwear), they kiss, and he then lies on top of her on her bed while they kiss. We then see shots of them kissing and caressing each other amidst the shadows falling across her bed including him kissing down her chest and then further down her body -- out of the camera's shot -- but we do see her pleasured reaction. While we don't see any explicit nudity or movement, some movement is strongly suggested as the camera moves and cuts across their bodies (the scene is more sensuous than graphic).
  • Charlie smokes a cigar while Catherine's mother holds a lit cigarette.
  • Theresa is a divorced single mom, and her son, Jason, lives with her but does go and visit his father.
  • Garret still grieves over his wife who's been dead now for two years, and her family is still affected by the loss as well.
  • We learn that Dodge and his wife are separated or divorced.
  • Theresa briefly mentions that her father died when she was in college.
  • A father must deal with his son's death.
  • The pain of losing a loved one, whether through death or divorce, and eventually getting on with one's life after such an event occurs.
  • Whether Theresa should have told Garret the truth (of her knowing about the messages) from the beginning.
  • To live and enjoy life with your loved ones to the fullest each and every day.
  • After a verbal argument, Garret kicks a chair out at Johnny and then punches him. Several locals pull Garret away and Johnny rushes up and kicks him, causing Garret to pick up Johnny and slam him down onto a table. The locals then separate the two.
  • Dodge briefly shoves Garret backwards while mad at him.
  • Although we don't see this through until the end, one person (and possibly another) drowns.

  • Reviewed January 28, 1999 / Posted on February 12, 1999

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