Sometimes the charm of two charismatic actors with great chemistry, combined with a smart, talented director, can make even the most banal of screenplays work to perfection. Such is the case with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1995 romantic comedy, French Kiss.
Kate (Meg Ryan) is a history teacher whose fear of flying goes far beyond what most of us would think of as terror, but she has a serious problem that involves flight. An American history teacher, she is engaged to Canadian Charlie (Timothy Hutton), residing in Toronto on a Resident Visa and waiting until her Canadian citizenship comes through before they get married. Charlie is a doctor who is about to fly to Paris for a medical convention and he begs her to come with him, even though she isn’t supposed to leave the country because of citizenship issues, but the point is moot because Kate just can’t board a plane. When a great house becomes available, they go to look at it. Charlie fears it will be too expensive for them, but Kate reveals that she has a considerable savings that she hadn’t told him about yet.
A few days later, Charlie calls her in a drunken stupor and reveals that he has fallen in love with a French girl, Juliette (Susan Anbeh) and won’t be coming home. In spite of her fears, Kate decides to board an Air Canada flight and go to Paris to get him back. The guy sitting next to her, Luc Teyssier (Kevin Kline) is a French thief who is illegally smuggling a small American grape vine back into France in order to create a new hybrid wine. However, tucked into the cheesecloth padding the root ball is a stolen diamond necklace. Luc begins an argument with Kate to distract her from her fear of flying, plying her with little bottles of liquor he has stolen from the flight attendants’ cart. He hides his vine in her travel bag so he can successfully smuggle it back into France. At customs, he meets his old friend Inspector Jean-Paul Cardon (Jean Reno), whose life he once saved. Returning from a vacation, Jean-Paul gives him a ride with his family so he can inspect Luc’s bags to make sure he isn’t smuggling anything.
Kate goes to Charlie’s hotel to find him, but a smarmy desk clerk won’t reveal his room number to her. Another petty thief, Bob (François Cluzet), tries to hustle her as she sits on a sofa in the lobby waiting for Charlie to come down. When she sees him kissing Juliette, she passes out and Bob steals her bag. Luc arrives, passing Bob at the door, to discover Kate passed out on the floor. He revives her and when he realizes that Bob has her bag, he takes her, steals a car, and drives to Bob’s apartment where they find he has already disposed of everything but her bag and the vine. Thinking he has now recovered the necklace, they leave, but have an argument on the street and separate. Kate goes to the American Embassy to get a duplicate passport, but they stonewall her because she is a permanent Canadian resident. At the Canadian Embassy, they won’t give her a duplicate Resident Visa because she was once arrested for possession of pot. Alone, penniless on the street, she reluctantly returns to Charlie’s hotel. In the interim, Luc has searched the root ball of his vine and finds the necklace is gone, so he goes back to Bob who proclaims that he didn’t take the necklace, that it must still be in Kate’s bag.
When Kate makes a scene at the hotel, the desk clerk tells her that Charlie and Juliette have gone to the south of France where they intend to get married, so she sets off for the train station. Bob arrives at the hotel to fleece more guests, but is arrested by Jean-Paul who is interrogating him trying to find a “big fish,” a more important criminal. At that moment, Luc arrives and forces the clerk to tell him where Kate has gone. Bob points out Luc to Jean-Paul and tells him that Luc has stolen a diamond necklace. Jean-Paul now chases Luc to the train station where they lose him.
Aboard the train, Luc finds Kate and volunteers to help her get Charlie back, so he can buy time to inspect her bag. Over the next few days, both of their affections begin to turn toward each other as Luc tries to help her reunite with Charlie, even though he now loves her himself. She reveals that she actually has the necklace and slowly gives in to her feelings for Luc.
Although the screenplay by Adam Brooks is certainly not a ground-breaking story, Kasdan does a marvelous job of telling it. The cinematography and editing are both terrific and they aid determined performances by Kevin Kline, who is almost always brilliant, and Meg Ryan, who, despite a few hammy scenes, is her usual charming self. The two of them bring a lot of chemistry to the romance, which is essential in a romantic comedy and their performances take a simple story and make it memorable. France has never looked so good on film, not just Paris, with both gaudiness and grit, but the countryside and vineyards of Luc’s birth really shine, not to mention the French Riviera.
It is a tight, fast moving film that engages the viewer constantly during the one hour and 51 minutes of length. Colorful, skillfully directed, with wonderful, engaging cast, this is one romantic comedy that should be on your shelf. I highly recommend it!