The Thing Called Love (1993)

It’s a crying shame that this was the last film that River Phoenix completed before his untimely death at age 23. Let me tell you, if you admire his work at all (and you should), please oh please just pretend that this film never existed. It’s really that bad.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama, Music, Romance

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Actors: Samantha Mathis, River Phoenix, Sandra Bullock, Dermot Mulroney

Year: 1993

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Country: USA

Samantha Mathis plays this young chickie-poo who moves to Nashville to be discovered as a songwriter. Around the time this film was made, I remember there being a big ol’ fuss about Mathis being the “next big thing” (she was also in Pump Up the Volume). She is so bad in this movie that you find yourself applauding when she fails again and again to get picked for open mike night at the Bluebird Cafe (a famous cafe where songwriters come from all over country in hopes of being discovered by recording studios).

And River Phoenix is not much better. He plays a scenester named James, who obviously has talent, so is therefore an extreme snob (and Mathis falls in love with him immediately). He is such a sourpuss who always looks like he has a turd under his nose, that it’s hard to see his appeal (other than his good hair). In a way, these two characters are so annoying that they really deserve each other, but you still wish they would just go away.

Oh, there are a couple of others in the film… Dermot Mulroney, once again playing a dim-bulb-who-is-a-good-guy-but-doesn’t-get-the-girl, and Sandra Bullock playing another transplant without much musical talent. They are both dorky, but kind of sweet. A relief from Mathis and Phoenix’s self-involved characters, that’s for sure.

The only thing remotely tolerable in the film is the music, particularly this one tune that appears more than once, that Phoenix’s character supposedly wrote:

“You don’t know right from wrong
The love we had is gone
So blame it on your lying, cheating, cold deadbeating,
Two timing, double dealing, mean mistreating, loving heart”

Great lyrics with catchy music, I have to say… and apparently the song was a hit for Trisha Yearwood (this information courtesy of a friend who knows way too much about country music).

Other than the fact that I could point at the screen whenever the characters were loitering around the Bluebird Cafe, and say, “I’ve been there!”, this movie is astonishingly annoying and basically unwatchable. Go rent Running on Empty or My Own Private Idaho instead if you need a dose of River Phoenix. Please.


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