When he and his friends visit a gypsy, unlucky in love Paul (Tate Donovan) is given a small dose of Love Potion #8, which will render him fascinating and irresistible to any woman he speaks to, as sound is what triggers the magic. Paul doesn’t buy into the potion, but takes it home and throws it away. His cat gets into the trash and licks the potion with some spilled milk, which then draws every female cat in the neighborhood to run to Paul’s apartment. Realizing there’s something to this potion, he takes it to work to show his co-worker and crush, Diane (Sandra Bullock), a frumpy-looking biologist. Paul is a biochemist, and after testing the potion on one of her test subjects, the two are able to replicate the potion (diluted) and agree to test it while not talking to one another for three weeks.
When the two finally reconnect, Paul has been arrested for being in a sorority house and Diane is there to bail him out. She’s accompanied by the Prince of England, who has found himself captivated by her. Diane has gone through a transformation from frumpy to stunning, which takes Paul by surprise. Soon the two begin a relationship of their own, but when their happily ever after is put in jeopardy thanks to Diane’s on-and-off-again lover, and a cunning sex worker, Paul realizes he needs an anti-dote to remove all effects of Love Potion #8.
While I had heard of Love Potion No. 9, I had never watched it before. This movie came out in 1992, so of course, there are some problematic moments. For instance, Paul, a grown man, takes a handful of condoms into a sorority house and is later arrested because men aren’t supposed to be in the home after 10pm. Ew. And, of course, the movie brings up some questions about just how romantic it is to take advantage of someone who is under the influence of… well, magic. When does the removal of free will become an issue? Yes, yes, I know this is a fantasy/rom-com, so maybe I’m delving too deeply into the movie. But I did notice that when Diane took the potion, men fell in love with her. They were respectful (for the most part) and captivated. When Paul used the potion, women threw themselves at him sexually. So… I wasn’t too thrilled with what the movie was saying about the sexes in that sense.
Putting that aside, I did find the movie to be quite cute overall. Bullock and Donovan had such sweet chemistry together, and it’s not hard to see how they fell in love on set. This was pre-Speed, but even in this film I could see sparks of stardom in her role. Charming, adorable, and accessible, Bullock still managed to look gorgeous even with incredibly thick eyebrows and buck teeth. Donovan was a fine leading man with some of the funnier jokes in the movie. I especially enjoyed his scenes with Madam Ruth (played by the marvelous Anne Bancroft) and the opportunist sex worker, Marisa (Mary Mara).
Love Potion No. 9 seems to be an early 90’s classic for a lot of people, and I can’t understand why. While it wasn’t a great movie, it was cute enough and had enough laughs to make it worth a watch. Problems aside – the icky moments, its predictability and silliness – the friendship to romance blossoming between Diane and Paul is what makes it work.