There’s just something about Minnie Driver. Truthfully, the only movie I’ve ever her in is Good Will Hunting and I don’t know a lot about her as an actress or a person. But it is perhaps for that exact reason that I love her. She seems like she has a great vibe, and I just want good things for her. So when I saw her appear in the first episode of Modern Love’s second season, a show dedicated to romance, my immediate thought was, Perfect, a nice love story for Minnie Driver! I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Driver plays a woman named Stephanie, who is grieving the loss of her first husband. At first, things don’t seem so bad for her character: Her new husband, Niall (Don Wycherley), is perfectly nice, and she has an almost unhealthily close relationship with her college-age daughter. But as I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder, why are all of Minnie Driver’s romantic roles kind of sad? Where is her sweet, purely romantically driven story? Yes, I can only speak for two things in her filmography, and one of them did come out before I was even born, but the similarities in their slightly melancholy endings are enough to make me think a conspiracy is afoot.
The episode follows Driver’s character through the very sad process of getting rid of an antique car that belonged to her deceased husband. But wait, it gets worse. The Stag is constantly breaking down on the side of the road, and the episode sets you up to think Driver might be holding onto it just so she can have flirty run-ins with the local mechanic all the time. Turns out, she’s attached to the old car because she’s just “hellishly lonely” without her first husband, and driving it makes her feel closer to him. Driver’s character has clearly given up on romance. She never wants to be touched by her new husband, and she spends all her free time video calling her daughter. Not to mention, we’re given a heart wrenching montage of her husband’s diagnosis and sickness leading up to his death. This episode radiates sadness! Even the sweet ending, where Niall buys back the Stag for her after she manages to sell it, wasn’t enough to save this. I wanted more. Driver’s character is still just as lonely as she was in the beginning, and I was left with a dull sadness for her — a feeling that reminded me of the only other thing I’ve seen her in …
In Good Will Hunting, Driver plays Skylar, a Harvard student who starts dating Will, the wicked-smart janitor played by Matt Damon. It includes nice, semi-romantic moments of Will and Skylar’s relationship — he thinks she’s cool because she kisses him after eating a burger on their first date, and he does her organic-chemistry homework for her so she can spend the day with him (okay, I’ll admit, that’s fully romantic). But the ending for the couple is basically heartbreak — at least for Driver’s character, who leaves for medical school in California after Will refuses to go with her. Sure, he eventually hops in a car and drives after her, and we can assume that they live happily ever after, but we don’t actually see that. How do we know they end up together? How do we know Will works through his troubled past? How do we know he doesn’t get rich and famous and break up with her on Oprah? In the last moment we see Minnie Driver in that movie, she’s sadly pacing an airport terminal to the soundtrack of an Elliott Smith song, hoping her ex-boyfriend will show up, and that’s not exactly what I’d call a happy ending.
At first, I thought I might’ve been too quick to say Minnie Driver doesn’t get enough real romance. Maybe I was taking this whole theory a little too far, given my lack of expertise. But after some research, the only exceptions I found to these rather depressing plot lines were her animated character in Tarzan, and the 2000 romantic comedy Return to Me, in which she plays the recipient of a heart donation who then falls in love with the donor’s husband, and I do not count that as a good love story.
Despite my issues with it, the Modern Love episode is probably still worth a watch. Driver’s performance is excellent and even if it’s not romantic, the episode is still one of the second season’s better ones. But, I still hope to one day see Minnie Driver get her sappy love story. Hollywood, I am begging you to give her something better. I want To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before but with Minnie Driver. Give her a fucking teenage dream!