The tragic and boring romance of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck proved once and for all that there is such thing as bad publicity. I bring that sorry mess up because it colors anything those two have touched in recent years, and there is question as to how it affected the release of An Unfinished Life which was filmed in 2003 but shelved until late 2005. Rumor also flourished about how Jennifer's role was cut because of the brouhaha. Miramax went through some upheavals and severe budget cuts in 2003 / 2004, which included the departure of the Wiensteins, so perhaps the Ben-Lo factor was not the reason why it was shelved. The truth is I don't know, and I have just enough apathy to not go hunting to find out what really happened.
An Unfinished Life begins when we meet widower Jean (Jennifer Lopez) and her daughter Griff (Becca Gardner), who run away from abusive live-in boyfriend Gary (Damian Lewis). With little money and a sudden loss of transportation, Jean reluctantly decides to go home to Wyoming, where her father-in-law Einar (Robert Redford) likes to grump around and blame her for the death of his son. Einar has managed to alienate everyone in his life except his friend Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who was mauled by a bear (Bart the Bear). Jean takes a job in town and catches the eye of Sheriff Crane (Josh Lucas), and Einar gets used to the idea that he actually has a granddaughter. Gary, meanwhile, is one of those jerk men who can't just let their punching bags go so he sets off for Wyoming, as well.
This movie is okay. It's a nice little chick movie with pretty cinematography (British Columbia plays the part of Wyoming), good acting from some sterling Hollywood vets (Redford, Freeman, and Bart), and a little eye candy for the women-folk (Lucas and Lewis). My biggest problem is the plot - everything is a little too familiar: the underdeveloped abusive boyfriend, the slow acceptance of differences for no apparent reason, the whole "Your son might be dead, but you aren't!" commentary from Mitch. I gave this movie a little extra approval because of Einar and Griff's scenes together, and Einar and Mitch’s unusual relationship. Jean could have disappeared from this movie altogether and the script could have just focused on those stories and the movie would have been far more compelling.
The DVD release is decent. It is as well-made as the movie, and about as standard. The picture is nice and crisp which helps showcase the beautiful scenery and the sound is fine as well. The extras are fairly standard, including director’s commentary and a making-of featurette. What I enjoyed most is a featurette on training Bart the Bear. Animal handling is pretty fascinating and when the handlers are dealing with something that is fairly wild and a quarter of a ton, I couldn’t help but admire their bravery.
The commentary is halfway interesting, and the filmmakers confirmed my suspicions that they did fiddle with the movie after the fact when test audiences negatively reacted to Jennifer Lopez. They were kind to her and didn’t go into specifics – they just mentioned ‘softening’ up her character to make her more sympathetic.
To sum up, An Unfinished Life is a series of wasted opportunities. It's a shame that the story didn't focus more on Einar, Griff, and Mitch’s relationship. It's a shame the plot was so predictable. It's also a shame that Lopez's reputation will color most people's viewing of this movie. I would recommend this movie to people who are fans of the actors, because they all did good work with a predictable script. And yes, that includes Ms. Lopez.