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French Kiss

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: French Kiss

Starring: Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 111 Minutes
Release Date: May 1995
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Timothy Hutton, Francois Cluzet, Jean Reno, Susan Anbeh, Renee Humphrey, Michael Riley, Laurent Spielvogel, Owen Roizman

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Director Lawrence Kasdan's latest movie is a romantic comedy called FRENCH KISS. The trademark of Kasdan's films (GRAND CANYON, BIG CHILL, and BODY HEAT) are the people. All of his actors have unique and compelling personalities. Moreover, his projects (GRAND CANYON, WYATT EARP, and SILVERADO) frequently have an epic feel to them. This was one of his non-epic movies, but it certainly was populated with some fascinating and quirky characters. I want to confess up front that GRAND CANYON was number one on my list in 1991 and BIG CHILL was in 1983 so I am huge fan of Kasdan's body of work.

FRENCH KISS tells the story of Kate (Meg Ryan) an American who is in the process of renouncing her American citizenship so that she can become a Canadian and marry her fiance, a Canadian doctor played by Timothy Hutton. She is deadly afraid of flying. In an initial, hilarious sequence, she fails a fear of flying school and refuses to travel with the doctor to a conference in Paris. While there, he meets Juliet (Susan Anbeh), a French "goddess", and tells Kate he is leaving her for Juliet. Kate goes to Paris and on the plane sits next to Luc, a French thief, played in a tour de force performance by Kevin Klein. Most of the movie has Luc trying to help Kate get the doctor back. There is also a significant subplot involving a stolen necklace and the chase by a the policeman (Jean Reno) to get it back.

The writing by Adam Brooks was quite funny. The interchanges between Kate and Luc were precious. He was crude and she was innocent, and the dialog was filled with them exchanging great one liners in a natural fashion of a real conversation rather than that of two great comics. Brooks did add one scene which was a long sight gag with Kate falling on a dessert cart and crawling on her knees to avoid being seen by the doctor. This piece of slapstick was pathetic and belonged, if anywhere, in another movie. I have no idea why the editor left it in.

Kasdan's directing was in the style of the BIG CHILL but with more comedy and less pretense about the need to deliver a message. Granted, there was a message in the movie, but it was subtle and tertiary to the plot and the subplot. My respect for Kasdan's craft continues.

I frequently will think more of the writer or the director than the actors in a movie because writers and directors are the unsung heroes who are the determinates of whether a picture moves you or bores you. In FRENCH KISS, as good as the writing and the directing was, it was ultimately the incredible performance by Kevin Kline that made the movie. He owned every scene he was in. Every time he opened his mouth you were wondering how he was going to deliver his next line and what his body language would be.

Kline is a versatile actor who has made the screen come alive in many other films. My two recent favorite roles of his were in DAVE and in PRINCESS CARABOO - both of which I recommend highly. [I got a letter to the editor of Fortune Magazine about DAVE published so it will always have a special place in my memory.] Kline as Luc was at the top of his form. There is no role of his, including his Academy Award winning role in A FISH CALLED WANDA, that I liked better. This film has to be rated a must see for all of you Kevin Kline fans.

I would go to see any film with Meg Ryan in it. She is cute, captivating, and intelligent yet always child-like and vulnerable. >From her best film (WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN) to her funniest (WHEN HARRY MET SALLY) she has always dominated any picture she is in. She is like the sun and the other actors circle her. In FRENCH KISS, she is terrific and yet, her performance pales in comparison to Kline's. This is his movie.

In the year 1980, Timothy Hutton was brilliant in ORDINARY PEOPLE. It has been straight down hill for him ever since. He has been so bad in many recent films, e.g., MADE IN HEAVEN, that they made my worst of the year list. He stays consistent and never bothers to act or show any emotion in FRENCH KISS. This is no easy feat since he is being actively pursued by someone as cute as Ryan and as drop down dead gorgeous as Anbeh. Most men might suffer a major meltdown just being in the same rooms with these two. Hutton manages to be oblivious to both. Major control I suppose or ice water in his veins.

The acting by the minor characters is good. Reno plays the cop with a fresh approach. I especially liked the acting by Anbeh, who takes a minor part with almost no lines, and manages to make the just stand there and look beautiful role interesting.

I wish I knew the names of the costume designers and the makeup artists since I think they deserve special mention. The costumes, especially the evolution of the costumes and the makeup for the two women leads was a key to the success of the film. Watch how they make Kate go from innocent and cute (sexiest belly button I have seen in a long time) to gorgeous and how they take Juliet in just the opposite direction. You can see it in the clothes, the make up, and in Juliet's later, stark hairdos. Finally, notice the evolution of the doctor's clothes. They get more and more outrageous until he becomes a caricature of an American playboy on the continent.

The cinematography was striking without ever being traveloguesque. The outside glow against the shadow of the bodies in the hotel was beautiful. If you notice the fade to black of the most of the scenes, it fades fast at first but then lingers until only a dark shadow against a black background remains reminiscent of a memory locked into our subconsciousness.

As someone who grew up in the 50s and 60s, I liked the double meaning of the title. When I was a young boy, a French Kiss was a proscribed activity that you giggled about in the schoolyard and yet anxiously and fervently awaited your first chance at it.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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