The Gritty Neo-Noir Western That Shows a Different Side of Meg Ryan
Feb 11, 2024
The Big Picture
Meg Ryan shines in the neo-noir Western drama
Flesh and Bone
, showcasing her versatility beyond rom-coms with a captivating performance.
Ryan’s character, Kay Davies, is a bibulous drifter who brings both a swagger and palpable vulnerability to the role.
Despite a unique and gripping storyline,
Flesh and Bone
didn’t perform well at the box office, but Ryan’s undeniable on-screen charm and charisma are always a winning factor.
In the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s, Meg Ryan absolutely owned the rom-com genre. From unforgettable roles in When Harry Met Sally to collaborations with Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, she cornered the market as “the girl next door” who was just so likable. When she stepped out of her comfort zone in 1993 with the neo-noir Western drama Flesh and Bone, it was risky considering the niche she had already carved out for herself in Hollywood. And even though it didn’t pay off at the box office, Ryan delivered a performance that made audiences take note that she was far more versatile than we were giving her credit for. Flesh and Bone is a slow burn, and Ryan shines in the part of Kay Davies. At the peak of her powers, how did Ryan not draw a larger crowd alongside a cast that included Dennis Quaid, Gwyneth Paltrow, and James Caan?
Flesh and Bone Decades later, a son of a killer falls in love with a girl, whose family’s horrifying murder he saw in childhood.
What Is ‘Flesh and Bone’ About?
Directed by Steve Kloves, Flesh and Bone is set in north Texas and is a haunting tale of family secrets that come home to roost after lying dormant for more than 30 years, resurfacing in the unlikeliest of ways. Ryan plays Kay, a woman who is down on her luck and married to an abusive and moronic husband. When she has a one-night stand with a rural Texas salesman named Arlis Sweeney (Quaid), her life is redirected down an emotional and mysterious path that will both ask and answer questions about her troubled past.
Ryan’s performance is an amalgam of two roles in particular. In Top Gun, she’s Carole Bradshaw, a southern free spirit with a devil-may-care attitude, and in When a Man Loves a Woman, she plays Alice Green, a privileged but alcoholic mother of two who uses booze to deal with the pressures of everyday life. In Flesh and Bone, she rolls both of these characters into Kay Davies. And it’s a movie that makes you wonder why, in 1993, the movie didn’t do well at the box office when everything else she touched turned to gold.
Meg Ryan Brings Her A-Game to ‘Flesh and Bone’
Some of Ryan’s best moments are when she’s unpredictable, such as in When Harry Met Sally when she unleashes a fake orgasm in front of a crowd of diners. Or as a devil-may-care spitfire like in many of her most celebrated rom-com roles. In Flesh and Bone, Ryan brings a combination of everything we loved about her when she cornered the market in the early to mid-’90s rom-coms. With her big, sparkling blue eyes and shoulder-length bouncy blonde hair, her presence and sheer energy leap off the screen and are infectious.
Related Meg Ryan Has Always Been an Underappreciated Actress With her new movie ‘What Happens Later’ in theaters now, Meg Ryan reminds us why we fell for her in the first place.
Kay Davies is a bibulous drifter who brings both a feminine swagger and a palpable sense of vulnerability as the wife of an abusive husband. She’s feisty, she’s tough as nails, but she’s also lonely in a loveless marriage and looking for some sort of direction in her life. She meets Arlis after being paid to burst out of a cake at a bachelor party, and it actually looks like Arlis could be the man to give her a path to a better life.
Dennis Quaid’s Arlis Has a Shocking Secret
Image via Paramount Pictures
Everything about Arlis seems to be exactly what Kay is looking for to take her life down a better and healthier path. She has no idea, however, that he was involved in a traumatic childhood event from her past that will change the dynamic of their relationship. When Arlis was a kid, he was forced by his dastardly father Roy Sweeney (Caan) to pretend to be a hungry and homeless orphan when he was a boy. Once Arlis was taken in by a well-meaning and concerned family, Roy would come in and murder the parents and steal all their belongings.
When Arlis finds out that one of those families was Kay’s 30 years earlier, he panics as he’s already started to fall for her. When Roy wants to finish what they started and leave no living witnesses, Kay’s life is thrust into danger and Arlis must decide between his loyalty to his own “flesh and bone” or this vivacious and fun-loving young woman that he could have a happy future with. It’s a bizarre story of how you never really escape both the events of your past and your family.
Image via Paramount Pictures
The energy and intellect that Meg Ryan brings to her romantic comedy roles is on full display here in Flesh and Bone. Once Arlis has to choose between Kay and his own father — even though dear old dad is a murderous scoundrel — the Meg Ryan charm still wins the day. True to form, Arlis kills his father before he can kill Kay, who is starting to put together the pieces from her past and become a threat to Roy and Arlis. Nobody has ever been able to resist Meg Ryan’s undeniable on-screen allure, even when she switched genres for a little change of pace. Ryan’s charisma transcends type, and it’s a real shame that more people didn’t see what she is capable of bringing to movies other than rom-coms. Hell, you may just want to see Flesh and Bone for the outlier performance of a young Gwyneth Paltrow as a stone-cold criminal, too.
Flesh and Bone is available to watch on Paramount+
Watch on Paramount+
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