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Sparks Notes: The 'Message in a Bottle' is don't leave messages in bottles, maybe?

“Sparks Notes” is one hot-blooded woman’s deep dive into the Nicholas Sparks film oeuvre. Each week, we’ll journey through another movie based on a Sparks novel. Why? Because I’m a lover of romance and the gratuitous use of extremely well-made male forearms, and honestly, I have the time. So, if you’re a Sparks fan, join me as we feel the love, mourn the dying, ogle all the beautiful people who moved to North Carolina, and cry … a lot. Sounds fun, right? Needless to say: SPOILERS ABOUND.

We made it, Sparks Notes readers! Message in a Bottle is the original movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel—the Sparks that launched nine other Sparks. This was my first viewing of the film. If you had told me I’d be watching Sleepless in Seattle meets Nights in Rodanthe plus Paul Newman, I would’ve been … PRETTY PUMPED. That movie sounds awesome and not at all like one that would make me eat multiple peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of sadness. This time, it was I who needed the warning.

Message in a Bottle | Released Feb 12, 1999

Directed by Luis Mandoki | Screenplay by Gerald DiPego, based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks

Starring Kevin Costner, Robin Wright, Paul Newman


TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT-ISH: Theresa (Robin Wright) is a sad woman. She works at the Chicago Tribune as a lowly researcher, instead of a reporter. Her husband cheated on her and left her a disgusting divorcée with baggage. She has to drop her ugly son off with her ex and his cute family and spend days alone in horrible Cape Cod. Ew!

Sorry, movie, you can’t fool this spinster! Theresa’s life sounds awesome. She has great hair, a steady job, an adorable son, and can afford a few personal days in Cape Cod. If it were up to me, Message in a Bottle would end after the first five minutes, when she says good-bye to her son and checks in at the B-and-B, solo.

Alas, it does not. While on this Cape Cod adventure, Theresa comes across a MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE washed up on the beach. It’s addressed to a mysterious Catherine, and about how Catherine was this person’s True North and he should’ve held on to her tighter. Say it with me, everyone: SWOON.

Theresa shows the letter to her boss, Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), and he decides to print it in the Tribune. The people of Chicago go ape-shit for it. They find two additional letters and go through this whole rigamarole of tracing the bottle and the messages, and discover the writer hails from the Outer Banks, North Carolina (OF COURSE). It’s basically CSI: Love Letters up in here. Not for nothing, I’d totally watch that show.

Theresa heads down to N.C. and meets the man behind the letters: Garret Blake (Kevin Costner). His wife, Catherine, died two years prior, and in his free time he likes to sand wood and have fights with his in-laws over his dead wife’s paintings. He also doesn’t know how to have basic human interactions anymore because he is GRIEVING. Theresa is totally into it, though. I get it: all the wood sanding!

Theresa and Garret spend the next few days sailing, making s’mores, and falling in love. The only thing that’s in the way is Garret’s creepy shrine to Catherine. He even has her shoes set out! I know you loved her, dude, but at least keep the freaky stuff behind a locked door or something; that’s Freaky Secret-Keeping 101.

Theresa heads back to Chicago. Garret must really be aching to get laid, because Mr. Outer Banks travels inland to visit Theresa after a few weeks apart. He feels awkward in the big city, but at least he’s trying.

Unfortunately, Theresa didn’t have the good sense to hide the MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE before Garret showed up. He confronts her about it, post-thunderstorm sex. He is livid. Sorry, she’s not sorry: These three letters brought her and Garret together. But wait—three letters? 

Flashback: Catherine is deathly ill (and crazy?), it has to do with a pregnancy or something not explained very well. Garret finds her tossing a MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE into the ocean, and then he carries his sickly wife back to bed. She dies days later.

Thanks to Theresa, Garret finally gets to read Catherine’s last words. It’s eventually cathartic, but for now, Garret is only feeling the betrayal, so he peaces out of Chi-town.

Some time later, Theresa receives a letter from Garret (via USPS, not bottle), inviting her to his boat christening. Theresa decides to surprise Garret, but when she rolls up to the dock, she has to listen to his speech about how much he still misses his wife. It’s a deal-breaker. She can’t be in a relationship with both Garret and his dead wife’s ghostthis isn’t Safe Haven.


Garret finally has a much needed heart-to-heart with his dad, Paul Newman. They put some old demons to bed and Paul Newman tells his son to let go of the past. So Garret writes one final letter and heads out on his boat to say good-bye to Catherine before he can say “Hey, girl” to Theresa.

Too bad Garret sails right into a storm and dies trying to rescue a stranded family. HE DIES, YOU GUYS. Just as he’s ready to move on and start a life with Theresa, THE SEA CLAIMS HIM AS HER OWN.

AND WHAT DID WE LEARN ABOUT LOVE IN CLASS TODAY? Don’t do it; the sea will claim you.

BUT HOW DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL? Honestly? Really angry. I sat through a whole lot of ’90s khakis and boating montages for Garret to just die? And then leave a letter for Theresa that, I’m paraphrasing, says, “Theresa is my new soul mate and we’re going to have the greatest life imaginable together! Just kidding, I’m dead now!” NO.


  • Are the two main characters from different worlds? A city mouse and a country mouse! It was super-weird to see Garret try to function in Chicago; like an elephant wearing an evening gown … just kidding, that would actually be really cute.
  • Are there parents who don’t approve? Catherine’s parents do not approve of Garret at all, but that has nothing to do with Theresa. It’s because they’re devil-people.
  • Is there time spent palling around in some type of water-based location? They attempt to make water really romantic and great, what with the sailing and throwing marshmallows at each other on the beach. But then water murders love, so I really don’t trust water at all anymore.
  • Does someone die? WHY?
  • Is there a wise older person? Paul Newman’s Dodge is the WISEST. Someone should start crafting fan fiction starring Dodge and Viola Davis’ Jean from Nights in Rodanthe. No takers? Well, I guess it’s up to me to give this world the greatest gift ever imagined. YOU’RE WELCOME.
  • Do the men perform activities that require well-developed forearms? Garret’s forearms don’t really wind my clock, but he makes a valiant effort. Activities include: sanding wood, punching brothers-in-law, hurling marshmallows at a woman, carrying a sick wife, filling out turtleneck sweaters, diving into the tumultuous sea to futilely attempt to save a stranger and he just dies and ARE WE EVEN SERIOUS WITH THAT ENDING?

You didn’t think I’d finish Sparks Notes without a highly scientific ranking* of all 10 Sparks films, did you? Join me next week as I frantically try to order nine films behind A Walk to Remember.

*Ranking is 100 percent based on levels of hunger, angst, and how buzzed I am at the time of writing.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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