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Forget Paris
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by Slyder

"An uneven but enjoyable Casablanca send-up a la Billy Joel"
4 stars

Thankfully I’ve never seen the trailer, nor read any reviews, and since I had time to waste, I wasted it on this flick. You know, I’m sometimes a sucker for romantic comedies, and I’ll watch one whenever I find it intriguing enough or funny enough to follow it. Billy Crystal’s second effort as a director (the other being Mr. Saturday Night) is a mixed bag, but an interesting premise that people who don’t know their film history tend to overlook.

First of all, ever heard of Billy Joel’s classic song “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant?” It’s one of my favorite songs by the way. Anyways, download the lyrics, get rid of the “things are OK with me these days…” part, replace the names Brenda and Eddie for Mickey and Ellen, then add a happy ending to that story and there’s your movie script right there. For those that are too lazy to do so, then here we go: Andy (Joe Mantegna) and Liz (Cynthia Stevenson) are about to get married, but before they do, Andy (who is a sports writer) has organized a get-together with his old friends at a restaurant: Subaru car dealer Craig (Richard Masur), his wife Lucy (Julie Kavner), NBA referee Jack (John Spencer) and his wife Lois (Cathy Moriaty). Andy has also invited another friend of his who also happens to be an NBA referee: Mickey Gordon (Billy Crystal), but isn’t sure if he’s going to make it due to all the crap that he has had to endure with his failed marriage with Airline travel agent Ellen Gordon (Debra Winger). Liz never heard of Mickey nor of his marriage to Ellen, so she wants to hear more; Andy then tells her the story, shortly joined by Craig and Lucy and then Jack and Lois… (Cue interlude music)

And it all starts with Mickey burying his much-hated father on route to France. But then the airline lost his coffin while in Paris, so he drops a complaint with Ellen, who works there. The two match and after burying his father, Mickey and Ellen enjoy the best week of their lives, ultimately falling in love and, after Ellen’s marital disputes which drive Mickey crazy, they marry. Only that once they’re married, all kinds of shit start to happen: Mickey at first works, but Ellen is lonely and miserable. Mickey tries to amend things by quitting, as Ellen gets her job back, only now roles reverse and Mickey is miserable as he takes a job at Craig’s Subaru dealership and has to take care of Ellen’s loony dad. Mickey and Ellen then fight for their rights to live their lives as they see fit. What will happen then?

The movie is quite fun, and it’s also very interestingly set up, narrated in past tense and in third person in order for each one of the characters to tell their view and their side of the story, and soon enough certain human sexual tendencies tend to emerge, with the men siding with Mickey’s anguish while the women tend to side with Ellen’s. But then the premise is also a very good one and here’s where your film background kicks in: Ever seen Casablanca? Whether or not you’ve seen it, you remember that famous final catchphrase that Rick Blaine tells to Ilsa Lund that made movie history: “We’ll always have Paris?” Well, this movie is a nearly brilliant send-up to that much known catchphrase; an alternate supposition which ponders of the question “what if Rick and Ilsa get together?” and the results are quite hilarious and at the same time dead on convincing: Ultimately, what makes marriage work is what you do in the present and the responsibilities you have to undertake that you have to accomplish. Marriage is not cemented in memories, but in the present. We’ll always have Paris? Forget Paris; focus on the present and on things to come.

Unfortunately, this film has an Achilles Heel: The subplot involving a brief break-up and make-up between Andy and Liz is pretty much a throwaway. The whole basketball scenes, though important, don’t have the dramatic punch that it demands mostly due to the big NBA Basketball stars that keep appearing in the picture as cameos. The problem is that these cameos completely distract the viewer’s concentration from the movie and it’s very hard to keep in pace with the story with Kareem Abdul Jabbar coming in and fighting with Mickey about his farewell game. From what I’ve read, the trailers heavily relied on this footage, and that’s probably one of the reasons why this film didn’t do well since it’s ultimately a part and not the whole of the movie.

But the big bitch is the chemistry between Crystal and Winger. Crystal is a superb comedic performer, and his comedic turns in the film are top-of-the-class hilarious. Winger is a highly respected performer (and a hot babe as well in her younger days) with a range of dramatic talent that ultimately glues you in when she’s at her best here. But when these two are together… well, to say that they’re oil and water is pretty much an understatement. The case of opposites attracting does not work here, as they are completely polar opposite. Whenever Winger shows her dramatic range, Crystal pales and looks totally blank as a piece of paper, and whenever Crystal displays his comedic abilities, Winger is pretty much like a cubism painting placed in an impressionistic gallery. They simply don’t match, and that takes a toll on the emotional bonding between the two, and when the aforementioned happy ending arrives, it just simply doesn’t wash. I can dig happy endings, but whenever they are well-applied, not when they’re jammed into the script in order to make a sour story go sweet and boost box office receipts in the process. You can’t play with suspension of disbelief like that.

At any rate, despite the schism, Crystal and Winger are in top form whenever they get a scene of their own. The supporting cast is also competent, although Cynthia Stevenson deserves an honorable mention in what was largely a hilarious turn. Crystal’s direction is competent, but he really needs to work in the character chemistry as well as the “final outcome” section. Despite the flaws, it’s a good movie to spend Friday evening with a date or a couple of friends and want to get some laughs, and despite the above average rating, I still recommend it. “Oh, and that’s all I’ve heard about Mickey and Ellen; can’t tell you anymore than I told you already; and here we are waving Mickey and Ellen goodbye. Oh”

(Interlude music)

“Bottle of red; oh a bottle of white; whatever kind of mood you’re in tonight. Meet you any time you want; in our Italian Restaurant.”

“HEY! If someone does not tell me about this baby, ASSES WILL BE KICKED!!!” 3.5-5

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=3547&reviewer=235
originally posted: 11/08/05 02:53:27
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User Comments

8/21/11 RLan A solid romantic comedy helped out with some good chemistry between Crystal and Winger. 3 stars
6/27/10 brian A mountain of blandness punctuated by the occasional laugh. 3 stars
3/15/08 Pamela White lots of great character roles 4 stars
1/19/04 HorrorScribbler Cute. Winger and Crystal have good chemistry. Cathy Moriarty terrific in small role. 4 stars
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  19-May-1995 (PG-13)



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