Published June 1, 1997
Till There Was You, by Scott Winant, is a leaden and slow-moving romantic comedy that tries very hard to be romantic, but has very little success at all in being comic. Jeanne Tripplehorn plays Gwendolyn Moss, a young woman who, as a little girl in the 1970s, was inspired by the romantic story of her parents’ meeting (which took place at a Young Democrats’ retreat during the Kennedy presidency) to certain romantic expectations of her own life, which she spends “waiting for that piercing moment of revelation” when Mr Right will at last come along. Beginning in childhood, however, her path continually crosses with the man, Nick (Dylan McDermott), who is destined to be her great love without either of them knowing it. Nick too is susceptible to romantic ideas. Both of them use the expression: “everything in my life has led up to this moment” — she of a dud boyfriend, he of a disastrous architecture final. It is a cute idea, but it is spun out at intolerable length and without much wit or charm.
Another good idea which fails in the execution is the character of Francesca (Sarah Jessica Parker) who had played Taffy, the little girl on a “Brady Bunch” like 1970s TV show called “One Big Happy Family.” Now grown up she has been through serious drug problems ( “God, I loved methamphetamines more than life itself” ) and is still a spoiled bitch, given to saying ominously: “This is extremely non-enjoyable.” Gwen becomes the ghostwriter for Francesca’s autobiography at the same time that Nick becomes Francesca’s latest boyfriend — because he designed a truly ugly restaurant she likes (called “The Awful Truth” ) and he’s great in bed. Francesca has also hired Nick’s architectural firm, which has the Dickensian name of Murdstone and Heep, to redevelop an apartment building she owns called La Fortuna.
Coincidentally, Gwen moves into the apartments at La Fortuna at the same time and finds them wonderful and magical besides their having been designed by “one of the first” women architects in L.A. who was also (again coincidentally) Nick’s architecture teacher in college. She joins a tenants’ organization to save the building by protesting to the City Council about its historic importance (Louise Brooks once lived there). Still she and Nick do not meet, though they are on opposite sides in the planning battle over La Fortuna. Nick has still not met her when he decides she is right, the place must be saved. And only then do they meet, by chance, as both are having a furtive cigarette ouside their first “Nicotine Users’ Anonymous” meeting.
I like, as I say, the idea. And I like the many false starts, the constant frustration of romantic expectations until suddenly they are realized just when our heroes least expect them to be. But the characters are just not likable enough or the dialogue witty enough for the movie to be a success, and there are lots of irrelevant characters and incidents floating along on the narrative stream with nothing to do but clutter it up. It’s a failure of the writing more than anything else — which is true of a great many films these days.