Continuing my watch through my “Romance of the 90s” DVD set I got from Target for $10 it’s the 1995 Meg Ryan vehicle French Kiss. And, not to spoil things, but I’m jsut happy I got to watch a movie I actually liked this week!
Description (Amazon): “En route to Paris to win back her ex-fiance, a neurotic woman becomes involved with a French thief.”
Romantic Comedy Queen of the ’90s Meg Ryan is Kate, a history professor who doesn’t want to fly to Paris for two solid reasons and one nonsense reason. First, she doesn’t like to fly and is afraid of it (understandable). Second, she just moved to Canada to be with her fiance and was asked to stay in the country until all of her papers come through and she doesn’t want to jeopardize this (also completely understandable). Third… she doesn’t like French people? This point is never really made clear, but mostly she just tends to want more stability and setting down roots than anything else. Her fiance is weirdly angry about all of these things, 2/3 of which make total sense, goes to Paris and immediately falls in love. Kate goes “well, I’m in a romantic comedy, so I guess I’d better follow him” and goes to Paris after him.
I think Kate works remarkably well as a romantic comedy heroine. She’s certainly not perfect, but she’s got some depth to her, she has her goals, and even when her goals are flawed it’s hard to root against her. Both Meg Ryan’s acting and the writing create a really solid protagonist. I also like how almost charmingly American she is throughout. She says what she means, she’s straightforward, she’s going to be almost alarmingly upfront with people. It’s the type of characteristic that could very easily be seen as annoying but for the most part really works here, especially against the backdrop of a new country she’s never been to.
Who are we supposed to be attracted to?:
Kevin Kline is Luc, a French thief who ultimately wants to own a vineyard. I’m not sure why they chose Kevin Kline over someone who’s actually French – apparently Gerard Depardieu was the original casting choice. Still, Kline works almost remarkably well in this, maintaining a good balance between smarmy and charming. He’s a self-professed asshole, but despite this he remains likeable throughout. Even as he steals a car and generally swindles left and right throughout most of it.
He and Meg Ryan have a really quite good chemistry between the two of them, which in a romantic comedy often goes a long way. And honestly, a lot of it comes from Kline’s acting, the almost palpable scenes where Luc’s starting to realize he has feelings for Kate. That said, I really like how Luc constantly had his goal (selling a diamond necklace he stole to fund buying a vineyard), which drives his action. Rather than just being the French character we’re supposed to fall in love with who does everything just for the main character with no real goals of their own. He has his own goals, his own passions, which drive his actions through most of the film, which makes any decision of his to help Kate even more exciting.
Funny enough, a Facebook group I’m a member of just had a big thread about two weeks ago where someone questioned Kevin Kline as a star and a lot of people came to defend him. While French Kiss might not be Kline’s most celebrated work, I think it shows just how great he can be.
Watching the Movie:
This was the first time I watched French Kiss, and more than anything I was just impressed by how well plotted this was. Perhaps not the most fun thing to say about a romantic comedy, but it felt like every element worked fairly well. Despite having an almost stereotypical plot point (it makes me wonder if French Kiss was one of the movies that Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna thought about when creating Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), all the motivations make sense, and things that were brought up at the start actually become valid plot points. At one point Kate mentions an anecdote about getting busted for smoking pot (the one time she ever broke the law), which worked at the time as characterization, but then later comes back as part of the Canadian Embassy’s reluctance to help her get back to Canada. Kate uses “I can’t leave the country while the paperwork’s being filed” as an excuse for not going to Paris, but it comes back as she’s trying to get help to go home. These things shouldn’t be notable, but given the caliber of movie I watch for this blog it really is.
While I was looking this movie up I realized that it was directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who I mostly know from co-writing The Empire Strikes Back (and The Force Awakens), in doing so helping cement one of the great cinematic couples of history, Han and Leia. While I didn’t think this would come up here, what was really great was the banter between Kate and Luc. Once they start to know each other and Kate can start teasing him, that’s when the chemistry starts to work. Considering he didn’t write French Kiss, and didn’t direct Empire Strikes Back, I’m not sure if any of what Lawrence Kasdan learned working on Empire translated to French Kiss, but it did work here. One of the best moments is when Kate reveals SHE’s played Luc, in a role reversal, so all of these moments work very nicely.
I also love the entire French setting. I suppose it mostly sets the scene, and is another “look women, don’t you want this thing?” in addition to the romantic comedy of it all, but the film looks lovely, and a lot of that is down to how beautiful Paris and France are. I almost wish there was more time devoted to showing France and travelling to different places, but that wouldn’t have worked very well for the plot.
Not everything works in French Kiss. Most attempts at humor beyond the dialogue between Kate and Luc fall flat (at one point Kate eats cheese, but oh no she’s lactose intolerant, hilarious!), so I wouldn’t say this is terribly funny for the most part. The ending is fairly rushed. But for the most part this is really enjoyable and remarkably well plotted.
Not all that much. There’s some kind of weird “you want to be the woman where no means yes and yes means no” dialogue that has some iffy implications. But for the most part it’s fine. There’s nothing gross on the level of Never Been Kissed, that’s for sure!
How convoluted is the plot?:
Not terribly. Like I mentioned, everything feels pretty legitimate, and most of the actions feel like they reflect the personalities of the characters, and nothing felt really out of place. The only thing that felt slightly convoluted was when Kate’s ex-fiance, Charlie, calls her after what must be a few days in France to tell her he’s fallen in love with another woman, which feels remarkably rushed in a “Kate, you sure dodged a bullet” kind of way. But this was the push that was needed to get the plot set in motion, so I can let this one slide. Kate flying to follow Charlie initially felt convoluted, but the more you hear about her the more it makes sense (she doesn’t want to give up what she feels like is a good, stable relationship). For the most part the plot works here, which is kind of incredible given everything I’ve watched here so far.
Who deserves better?:
Nobody, really. This is a movie that utilizes its talent well.
Could it be Fixed? :
Personally I’d extend the ending a little bit – it felt a little rushed, and I think most romantic comedies generally should have a more substantial ending than this got. However, that’s a fairly small thing. I’d also remove Meg Ryan’s weird “I don’t like French things” thing she has at the beginning, and just make her being a homebody even clearer. That said, I really liked that that wasn’t something the movie thought needed to be fixed. So a little more emphasis on that character growth would have been nice.
There’s also a weird running erectile dysfunction joke that I’d change around. I get they want something that Meg Ryan can tease Kevin Kline about, but maybe something else. Because that didn’t work well for me.
Is it Fun to Watch?:
Yes. I wouldn’t say this is a perfect chick flick on the level of something like, say, Clueless or You’ve Got Mail, but it’s surprisingly good, and I’m kind of surprised this isn’t more popular. If i was recommending a romantic comedy to someone this wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you’ve seen all the best ones and want something new I’d definitely check out French Kiss.