Los Angeles Times

'Til There Was You


Friday May 30, 1997

     "Everything in my entire life has led up to this moment," say the fated lovers of Scott Winant's " 'Til There Was You," and the same can be said, without the enthusiasm, for anyone who attempts to endure this trite, sentimental romantic comedy.
     " 'Til There Was You" is the first feature for both Winant, one of the creators of TV's "thirtysomething," and screenwriter Winnie Holzman, a staff writer for that show, and neither one will be in contention for rookie of the year honors. Their "Sleepless in Seattle" wannabe works so hard to make you root for that first meeting between Jeanne Tripplehorn's Gwen Moss and Dylan McDermott's Nick Dawkan that you can barely stand them when they finally do.
     The idea of a romance that doesn't begin until the movie ends is a difficult thing to pull off, and Nora Ephron only managed it on the charismatic appeal of her two stars, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Tripplehorn and McDermott are likable enough in their roles, but Holzman's precious, overwritten script gives them few genuinely honest moments, and no lines to match the wit in "Sleepless."
     " 'Til There Was You" takes its "my life as pretext" theme almost literally. We meet Gwen and Nick as small children, and learn why she'll grow up to be a hopeless romantic, clinging to the notion of one great love, and he'll grow up emotionally "unavailable." In these early scenes, Gwen's mother fills her head with a poetically idealized account of her meeting with Gwen's father. Nick, meanwhile, is living in a Tennessee Williams story, listening to his melancholy mom berate his alcoholic father every night.
     You need a scorecard to keep the players straight through the first half hour of the film, and you will be quizzed later. Virtually everyone you meet in Gwen's and Nick's childhood and college years return, in a series of coincidences that affect their lives, and put them on their intersecting course.
     Actually, Gwen and Nick meet once in grade school, when he bumps into her on the stairway, and they share a measured glance. And in college, he accidentally drops a model of a building out a second-story window and sees it land next to Gwen on a bench below.
     But most of the time, they're in the margins of each other's world. Nick has a romance with the former child star Francesca Lanfield (Sarah Jessica Parker) whose autobiography is being ghost-written by Gwen. And Gwen is dating a neurotic book editor who insists on taking her to the Awful Truth, a ghastly industrial deco restaurant designed by Nick.
     As we follow their near encounters, the only question is precisely what will bring them together. Gwen's letters to the Los Angeles Times, condemning plans by Nick's architecture firm to tear down the historic apartment complex that she lives in, and that Francesca owns? Or could it be something as simple as their shared nicotine addictions? Nothing in Holzman's overly tidy script goes without some later comment, and there's enough second-hand smoke in the picture to pollute the theater.

'Til There Was You, 1997. PG-13, for sensuality, language and drug references. A Penney Finkelman Cox production, released by Paramount. Director Scott Winant. Producers Penney Finkelman Cox, Room Rosenberg, Alan Poul. Screenplay by Winnie Holzman. Cinematography Bobby Bukowski. Production design Craig Stearns. Editors Richard Marks, Joanna Cappuccilli. Music Miles Goodman, Terence Blanchard. Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes. Jeanne Tripplehorn as Gwen. Dylan McDermott as Nick. Sarah Jessica Parker as Francesca. Jennifer Aniston as Debbie.

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