Published June 1, 1998
Six Days, Seven Nights, directed by Ivan Reitman, tries and does not completely fail to be an old- fashioned sort of romantic comedy. Anne Heche plays Robin Monroe, deputy editor of a New York fashion magazine who meets cute with Harrison Ford as Quinn Harris, a crusty old souse of a pilot living the life of Riley in the South Seas. The two of them find themselves marooned on a desert island and chased by pirates and, in spite of their natural and instant antipathy to each other, falling in love. Robin’s fiancé, the romantic Frank (David Schwimmer) is a kind of mooncalf who is always being thoughtful and romantic in the way that New York girls, or American girls, are now supposed to expect. But Frank turns out to be rather a sap, his romanticism really a sign of weakness. So far, you might think, so good.
When Robin and Quinn seem to be lost at sea, Frank takes an early opportunity to sleep with Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors), Quinn’s hot young girlfriend and an exotic dancer. But he hates himself for it in the morning. “What did I do?” he moans. “And how many times did I do it?” As he continues to berate himself — “I’m scum! I’m garbage!” he cries — Angelica, who has obviously been around the block a few times, says: “Stop beating yourself up. You’re a guy. You can’t help it.”
But there are different ideas of what it means to be a guy. Quinn and Robin, apparently, can help it, though it is she who (as in traditional thinking) must exercise the restraint. “If I start kissing you, I won’t be able to stop,” she tells him. And, improbable as it sounds on what they think might well be their last night on earth, he accepts without a word her sense of fidelity to old Frank. More importantly, when Quinn tells Robin that he’s scared, as the two of them are running from the pirates, she says that this does not help. “I thought that’s what women wanted.”
“Men who aren’t afraid to cry, who are in touch with their feminine side.”
“Not when we’re being chased by pirates. Then we want them mean and armed.”
Well, duh! But believe it or not, it is actually something of a step forward in the Hollywood of recent years, which has been utterly cowed by the feminists, to be able to say so. Likewise, when Quinn is about to give up hope, it is the need to protect his woman which brings him round.”I need you to be my confident captain,” she tells him tenderly. “I can’t tell you how difficult this is going to be for me if you lose it.”
All this is very promising. But what might otherwise have been a splendidly reactionary-romantic comedy falls foul of two problems. The first is that the pirates, led by the fine part-Maori actor Temuera Morrison, are too ridiculous for words, the stuff of Saturday morning kiddie cartoons. They appear when they are needed to throw a scare into us, then disappear, then reappear again just as rescue seems at hand. The good guys’ escape is obviously inevitable, but the instrumentality by which it is brought about is absurd. The second problem is that, although the film does bring up the unsuitability of the match between the New York feminist and her old, drunken Neanderthal of the South Seas, it skates over the problem in the end. “You deserve someone fresher,” Quinn points out gently. Besides, she’s not coming to the South Pacific to be his co-pilot, he says, and he’s not going to New York to be her receptionist. So what kind of future could they have?
Given the reactionary nature of the romance, they ought at least to take this question a little bit seriously, but in the end it is simply forgotten. I guess Hollywood will never get that conservative — conservative enough, that is, to take seriously the practical difficulties with following one’s feelings in love. We must just be grateful for what conservatism we can get, and for the fact that Anne Heche, the well-known lipstick lesbian, should here be found showing women how to be women again, and men how to be men.