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He Said: Small town quality adds sense of heart to movie

Before beginning, this critic has a confession to make: he is the world's number-one fan of the film "Pretty Woman."

That nearly decade-old fairy tale married tenderness, laughter and love in a seamless manner that no romantic comedy has been able to match since. Richard Gere and Julia Roberts now have teamed up once more with "Woman" director Garry Marshall to put a little love in audience's hearts this summer. It's safe to say that the old magic is back.

Marshall makes sure that "Bride" is no "Woman" duplication. Where "Woman" was a coming together of two lost souls in the big city, this Gere-Roberts reunion abandons the urban excesses of Rodeo Drive for the intimate small town feel of the fictional Hale, Maryland.

To the credit of everybody involved, particularly writers Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott, "Bride" is not simply a movie about a man and a woman getting together by the end of the film. Instead, the audience actually gets to watch two people falling in love. Marshall does here what he does better than almost all other directors. He makes the domestic front exciting, turning love and marriage into a wild ride, and making each casual conversation a hidden treasure.

In true screwball comedy form, Roberts (as hardware store worker Maggie Carpenter-cute, huh?) and Gere (as USA Today columnist Ike Graham) hate each other at the film's start. When cynical divorcee Ike writes a column about Maggie's tendency to jilt her husbands at the altar, Carpenter is so infuriated that she gets him fired.

As Ike infiltrates the homey atmosphere of Hale in order to write an in-depth piece on Maggie and redeem himself, he ends up becoming part of the family.

Part of the reason Marshall conveys the notion of family so successfully is because he continues to work with the same cast and crew from one film to the next.

Alumni of earlier Marshall films returning here include Laurie Metcalf ("Dear God"), Jane Morris (who Marshall used to perfection in his "Woman" follow-up, "Frankie and Johnny") and Marshall film staple Hector Elizondo, (the hotel manager from "Pretty Woman"), all of whom manage to fill their small roles with the appropriate amount of zeal.

Two other members of the ensemble who deserve special mention are Paul Dooley ("Sixteen Candles") as Maggie's pained, alcoholic father and comic genius Joan Cusack ("In & Out") as Maggie's gal pal Peggy. Cusack is remarkable, thanks to her ability to react onscreen--her expert eyes seem to absorb everything.

Special notice must also be paid to a couple of behind-the-scenes members of the Marshall family. Composer James Newton Howard's sweetly subtle score accentuates the fluttering of Maggie's and Ike's hearts with his combination of synthesizer, percussion and piano textures. And cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh's carefully measured medium shots place the audience in the middle of the film's action, making them feel right at home.

"Bride" rises above mere formula fluff because it gives credence to Maggie's predilection for sabotaging her own nuptials, which comes from a deep-rooted fear of commitment and ceremony.

Just as she did in "My Best Friend's Wedding," Roberts takes a neurotic mess of a character and turns it into something greater. She manages to flesh out the many aspects of Maggie's personality and show just why (and this part is the key to her character) so many men seem to become transfixed by her.

Roberts' subtle hesitation and discomfort around fiancé number four (Christopher Meloni) demonstrate how unsure of herself Maggie is, and how she tries to understand herself through others. She also masterfully balances that side with some wonderful physical comedy.

Gere's role is not nearly as meaty as Roberts' is, but he pulls it off rather well. Ike falls in love for the last time while Maggie finds it for the first time in her life. The beautiful thing is the audience actually gets to see the process happen.

The "Pretty Woman" team has done it yet again. They have shown that no matter how much money one may have, there is no truer success than being able to share one's heart with another person.

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