Archive for March, 2014

The Thing Called Love

Posted: March 30, 2014 in Uncategorized

This 1993 film is a relatively new release on Netflix.

Ah, 1993. I was a freshman in college. The world was exciting, the wide road of possibilities lay before me, and most importantly (of course, of course!), River Phoenix was still alive. He would unfortunately succumb to a drug overdose in front of the Viper Room before I finished my first semester, but while he was here, oh! What a glorious world it was! And when he died, we were all very sad and had the requisite all-night River movie marathons. One friend was particularly sad because she envisioned a future in which she and River Phoenix were married and had a child named Acorn.

But I digress.

Twenty years have come and gone, and River Phoenix is a teenage hormone-fueled memory. I don’t think I’ve watched a River Phoenix movie in at least ten years (I think the last one I saw was Dogfight), and for me, it’s easy to forget how magnetic he was. I think I saw The Thing Called Love once, many years ago, and liked it but wasn’t blown away by it. Here’s the problem with this movie: it’s more uneven than Lindsay Lohan on a three-day bender. And yet, as with Lindsay, even though you can poke a hole through its flaws and laugh at its shortcomings, part of you is nostalgic because you remember how cute River Phoenix (or Lindsay Lohan, especially in The Parent Trap) was, and it makes you long for the past and wish for a different future. (Like one where River Phoenix was alive and Lindsay didn’t turn out to be a train wreck.)

The Thing Called Love is mainly just a story about four singers (Phoenix, Samantha Mathis, Sandra Bullock, and Dermot Mulroney) trying to make it in Nashville. Peter Bogdanovich’s direction gives the film a little more credibility than it probably would have had otherwise. And it’s a strange reflection of the only time in history when Samantha Mathis would be billed over Sandra Bullock. But other than that, the movie is nothing special. Except for one thing.

River Phoenix’s character.

River Phoenix’s James Wright is magic. He is magic. Complicated magic, but magic nonetheless. He is the moody, sexy, enigmatic romantic hero that every woman secretly dreams of. Okay, so the on-screen kissing leaves a little to be desired (I think River could have done with a little coaching; he was a little over the top in the kissing department. And I was just the girl to teach him! ha) and it’s kind of hard to believe that anyone would get all moony-eyed over dumb old Samantha Mathis, an actress who at best was ever just supporting actress material. (Also, she is not a great singer.) But still. James Wright is complicated and sexy and smart and has longish hair and is perfect imaginary boyfriend material. In the movie, he is also kind of a pain in the ass, but I think that just comes along with the territory.

So here’s how I break it down.

Reasons to watch The Thing Called Love:

1) River Phoenix.

2) River Phoenix.

3) Did I mention River Phoenix?

4) Some of the music is okay, too. I’m not a country music fan, but many of the songs are pretty catchy.

5) As early 1990s comedy dramas go, you could do worse. I was actually able to sit and watch the whole thing, which is an accomplishment in itself, these days. Mostly I get bored around thirty minutes in, and start fast-forwarding until the movie gets good. (If it ever does.) So there’s that.


Reasons to avoid The Thing Called Love:

1) It’s about country music. If you cannot abide country music, just skip it–River Phoenix or no. If your hatred of country music conflicts with your love of River Phoenix, you may need to consult a professional.

2) Samantha Mathis is just awful in this.

3) Dermot Mulroney gives a good performance…but his character is annoying. (Sandra Bullock actually gives a decent performance, too.)

4) Did I mention that Samantha Mathis is awful?


Okay, I’m starting to sound like a teenage girl. So I’ll stop now. If you need something decent to watch on Netflix, give this one a shot. But I warned you about Samantha Mathis. And the movie’s unevenness.



When I was in high school, River Phoenix’s band Aleka’s Attic played in a club in a nearby city. I had to leave before Aleka’s Attic started playing, but I did manage to take a photo of him at the bar. The photo was a little blurry, but it was definitely a photo of him drinking a beer.

Then I lost the photo.

Cue sad trombone. 😦