Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Romancing the Stone’ (1984)

11Mar09

Romancing the Stone, the first and only script of waitress-turned-screenwriter Diane Thomas, is supposedly one of the first movies to mix such a heavy romantic comedy element into an action-adventure movie. 'Romancing the Stone' posterI’m by no means a film historian so I cannot comment to the truth of that statement, but regardless of whether it came first or not Romancing the Stone is definitely one of the better action-adventure-romantic-comedies I’ve seen, mainly because of its treatment of its characters.

I have come to expect from these types of movies that the female lead will need a lot of saving and the male lead will look really cool as he does it. While that dynamic exists to an extent in Romancing the Stone, it doesn’t last very long. Joan, despite what the illustration on the movie poster would have you believe, is not portrayed as a shrieking, frightened, useless wet rag, clinging to Jack at every turn. Joan needs Jack’s help in escaping from Zolo when she first encounters him in the wilderness of Colombia, and she definitely benefits from traveling with him due to her unfamiliarity with the region. But Jack’s ability to help her has less to do with his sex and more to do with the tools and experience he possesses. Give Joan a shotgun, a machete, and several months’ residence in Colombia and she would have seemed equally capable. Joan is not incompetent nor unwilling, she is simply unprepared. The adventurous spirit that Joan channels into her romance novels soon begins to surface when she realizes what is at stake, and she gamely tries to cross a deteriorating foot bridge, hacks away at vegetation with Jack’s machete, and steals a car to escape from Zolo’s approaching forces. While Jack saves her life at the beginning of the film, she arguably returns the favor when the leader of a drug cartel, who probably would have killed them if not for his love of Joan’s books, helps them escape from Zolo. And during the exciting climax, she doesn’t need Jack’s help in defending herself from Zolo, though he does come to her aide.

Jack is also not the typical action hero. Played by Michael Douglas, he is hardly the muscled, chivalrous, suave man of action that people expect in this type of movie. He initially won’t help Joan, who is obviously stranded in the wilderness, until she offers him money to take her to a telephone. And whenever he encounters a sticky situation, he professes that he wishes he had listened to his mother. Rather than Jack calling all the shots, he and Joan very quickly become partners in trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers.

I’m not a huge fan of Michael Douglas, but he is fun to watch here paired with Kathleen Turner. It’s obvious that they are having fun with the material and with each other. This film was important for both Douglas and Turner, establishing them as capable leading actors, and it was also a boon for the career of director Robert Zemeckis, who went on to direct the Back to the Future films. Even though it follows the romantic comedy formula, Romancing the Stone offers some surprises and features engaging performances, making it a pretty entertaining popcorn movie.

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