I am a huge Julia Roberts fan, as of this year to be exact. All of her characters in the 90s and early 2000s are all so unbelievably charming, and more complex than a lot of comparable rom-com leads. She has a way with her, and if you’ve seen any of her classic repertoire, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Runaway Bride (1999) is no exception, but the plot is not exactly what I had ever expected it to be. Richard Gere plays Ike, a reporter who hears about a woman in Massachusetts who has left many men at the altar, running away from her own wedding. That woman is Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts). Ike exaggerates in his column, saying that Maggie has run away from 7-8 weddings, when in reality it’s only been four, and is fired from his job for lying.
So he decides to go to Massachusetts and follow Maggie around to get the real story to sell to another outlet. Maggie does not consent to this at first, and he even goes so far as to dig up a topless photo of her and taunt her with it. How they fall in love at the end is beyond me, because all Ike does is criticize Maggie for her life when she has every right to know what’s best for herself.
Maggie is to be married to Bob, who seems perfectly lovely! We’re supposed to like Richard Gere more, but this is really unfair to Bob! No one trusts Maggie to make her own choices, whether that’s running away from a wedding or not.
Maggie is a charismatic and three-dimensional character, and I think it’s doing her a disservice for her fatal flaw to be leaving men at the altar. It’s not only that this does not allow for this character to have agency, but it also does not align with what her character would do in the first place. Maggie is a self-assured woman who is incredibly capable of taking care of herself, so it does not make a whole lot of sense that she would be one to either 1) get married so frivolously or 2) not be happy with her choice. It does not feel in character for her to second guess her decision last minute. It seems much more likely that she would date around until she is older and ready to settle down. But Maggie Carpenter just isn’t a character who feels ready to settle down.
Now onto Ike. Not only does he stalk Maggie until she makes a financial deal with him, but he also claims to “really know her.” At Maggie and Bob’s rehearsal dinner, Ike and Maggie have a blowout fight where he tries to tell her what she does and doesn’t want. And whether what he says is true or not, he really has no right to say any of these things to her. It’s not romantic to unpack a woman’s inner emotions when she never asked you for your opinion, and it’s absolutely bonkers to then marry that man.
Maggie then gives a speech where she tells Ike how all he likes to do is criticize people, and though the scene is set up like these confessions are supposed to be a revelation of how well these two know each other, everything she says is correct. That’s exactly what he is and she should listen to the words coming out of her mouth! This is not a dig on Maggie, she didn’t write this script, but I wish the writers let her run away from Ike like she should have.
Maybe Maggie shouldn’t have ended up with Bob either, we know very little about their relationship, and so do her friends and family who don’t have faith in her to make a decision. If she wants to leave another man at the altar, so be it. Maggie Carpenter is an adult woman who is allowed to walk away from the relationships that do not bring her joy, and that’s no one else’s business besides her own. And that includes you, Richard Gere!