An odd couple turns cute in `Special Night'

Review: James Garner and Julie Andrews have everything going for them -- chemistry, ability and a charming story -- in this CBS movie.

November 27, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

If you see only one made-for-TV holiday movie this year, make it "One Special Night," with Julie Andrews and James Garner.

In fact, even if you hate holiday movies, see "One Special Night," tomorrow night at 9 on CBS. I haven't seen a pair of actors work this wonderfully together since Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay in "A Rather English Marriage" earlier this year on PBS' Masterpiece Theatre.

Andrews plays Dr. Catherine Howard, a pediatric heart surgeon who drives a vintage Jaguar sports car and power walks to Mozart's Fifth Symphony. She's Mary Poppins gone to medical school and had a successful career.

Garner plays Robert Woodward, a gruff construction company owner who believes that all vehicles should have four-wheel drive and that women should be seen more than heard. Think Jim Rockford's older, respectable brother who's made a good living building shopping centers in the suburbs.

Ah, but you know what they say about opposites.

Woodward and Dr. Howard meet at a hospice on Thanksgiving. He's there with his two grown daughters to bring his wife, who suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease and a heart condition, home for the holiday.

Dr. Howard is there to visit the room in which her husband spent his last days. Since his death, she finds herself often visiting the room, using it as a place of meditation on their life together. The staff indulges her.

Woodward's wife takes a turn for the worse, making the trip home impossible for her, so Woodward sends his daughters off in his SUV, while he stays with his wife until she's asleep. But, by the time he's ready to leave, a snowstorm has him all but stranded.

It appears that his only way home is in accepting the offer of a ride from a striking woman with close-cropped blond hair and a slight English accent.

But, by the time he scrunches himself into her tiny sports car, he's already having serious misgivings -- thoughts about little foreign cars, women doctors and her driving. Much to her irritation, he has no reservations about sharing such thoughts with her as she's trying to navigate the snow-covered road.

Would you be even a little surprised to hear that they crash in the snow and have to spend the night together?

"One Special Night" never loses touch with the sense of loss both Woodward and Dr. Howard suffer in connection with their spouses, but from the moment of the accident, it becomes a delicious little romantic comedy.

He wants to stay with the car, hoping help will come.

She thinks they should take their chances of finding shelter by walking on.

The badinage as they hike down a deserted farm road through the swirling storm is wonderful.

"Look, I was right," she says pointing toward a tractor standing just off the road. "Where there's a tractor, there's got to be a farm."

"Yeah, unless the farm burned down, and the only thing left is the tractor," he says sarcastically.

"You're a half-empty kind of guy, aren't you?" she says heading toward the tractor.

`No, I just live in the real world where people don't drive Jaguars in the snow," he says back to her.

And, then, under his breath: "If we don't die, I'm gonna kill her."

The two of them on the tractor -- him driving, her standing behind with her arms around his neck in a stranglehold -- is hilarious.

Andrews is a terrific physical actress who can do more with a pratfall on the ice than any comic actress this side of Lucille Ball.

Chemistry is too mild a word for what Andrew and Garner, who worked together in "Victor/Victoria" and the "Americanization of Emily," share. From the moment their characters get in her tiny red car, you're thinking "It Happened One Night."

"One Special Night" reminds us not only that life goes on, but also that romance is possible at any age.

It delivers that promise in a way that's gentle, poignant, witty and touching. It's a half-full kind of film that leaves you feeling good about believing.

This weekend

What: "One Special Night" When: Tomorrow 9 to 11 p.m.

Where: WJZ (Channel 13)

In a ntshell: Don't miss it

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