THE THING CALLED LOVE
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: River Phoenix,
Samantha Mathis, Dermont Mulroney, Sandra Bullock
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: March 7, 2006
“Didn’t you see the stop sign?”
“That’s my song!”
“Well, that’s my car!”
“That’s my song playin’ on the radio!”
“You wrote that song?”
“You’re a better songwriter than you are a driver.”
With the exception of Johnny Cash and, well, maybe a little bit of Garth Brooks, I’ve never been a huge fan of country music. Despite living in the south all of my life, it’s always been the one genre of music that simply never appealed to me. I was simply too heavy into classic rock, alternative music and hip hop.
Watching The Thing Called Love, I had hope to gain an appreciation or a certain amount of understanding about country music. All was going well until about midway through when the movie switches gears and becomes an all too colorful love story at the level of a TV movie. And the material should’ve been handled a lot better since the director is Peter Bogdonavich (The Last Picture Show).
Yes, the film does open with some strong promise, as we get a glimpse of the Nashville music scene, where young aspiring artists come from numerous parts of the country to showcase their singing or songwriting ability. Such is the case with Miranda Presley (Samantha Mathis), a New York native who has come to Music City with some songs she has written that she hopes will capture the attention of a notable country music star.
Upon arriving in Nashville, Miranda is greeted with a so-so response regarding her material. She is advised to try a little harder. Miranda soon finds herself befriending a number of struggling artists just like her. They include Kyle (Dermot Mulroney), a cowboy from the great southern state of Connecticut, and Linda Lue (Sandra Bullock) from Alabama.
Then there’s aspiring singer James Wright (River Phoenix, in one of his final film appearances). He is the only one who appeals to those heading auditions at the Bluebell Cafe. It’s only a matter of time before he makes his first record and is on his way to becoming a star.
By this point, the screenplay decides to take a questionable turn and create a love triangle between Miranda, James and Kyle. Miranda is attracted to the singer James, but Kyle is smitten with Miranda. And, wouldn’t you know it, James and Kyle are best buds. Yes, it’s just the sort of material that can be found just as easily on the Lifetime network.
The movie also throws a tad bit of realism out the window in moments when it shouldn’t. Case in point, a scene where Miranda and Kyle team up to get a demo tape of hers delivered to real life country singer Trisha Yearwood. Do they knock on her door to give the tape to her? No, they decide to break into her car so that the tape can be played for her.
The following scene has Miranda and Kyle in police custody, only to have Ms. Yearwood eagerly drop the charges because she really likes what she heard on the tape. Now granted, I’m not a struggling musician, but I’m not sure if it’s wise to commit a felony in hopes that someone well connected in the industry can hear what you have to offer. I mean, did we see Terrence Howard do the same thing in Hustle and Flow? No, his character simply made the tape and tried desperately to get it to the right person and the best possible time.
The cast of then rising stars are genuinely appealing, particularly Ms. Mathis in the lead. Dermot Mulroney, an undervalued actor, is good as always and has a number of funny scenes. Sandra Bullock doesn’t actually have much screen time, as this film came one year before her big breakthrough with Speed, but shines in the scenes nonetheless. And River Phoenix demonstrated, once again, just how significant of an actor he was.
But for all its good qualities, The Thing Called Love develops a split-personality and becomes a whole other movie midway through as a result. It’s a film with good intentions, and some catchy music, but it’s one that falls short of becoming a pivotal depiction of country music. It’s certainly no Nashville.
Paramount’s anamorphic presentation is most decent one. The image quality is that of a well rendered and very crisp. Colors are nicely handled, in addition. Several instances of noticeable grain early on in the movie prevent it from being an all together great presentation, but it’s an exceptional one nonetheless.
Not a bad 5.1 mix, considering that country music is being played in just about every single scene, whether it be in a recording session or in a crowded bar. The music is the supreme highlight here, particularly the catchy tune, “Blame it on Your Heart”. Dialogue is delivered in perfectly clear form, as well.
Included on the disc is a commentary from director Peter Bogdonavich, three featurettes; “The Thing Called Love: A Look Back”, “The Look of the Film” and “Our Friend River”, and a theatrical trailer.
My lack of interest in country music doesn’t apply to my reaction of The Thing Called Love, but rather that the film itself couldn’t seem to deliver anything to make me appreciate the music even more. It unwisely becomes a different kind of movie and suffers in that regard, though the cast is appealing.