Kate, the teacher played by blithe spirit Meg Ryan in this sly and winning romantic comedy, is sleepless in Toronto. She fears flying but needs to jet over to France fast. Her fiance, Charlie (Timothy Hutton), a Canadian doctor for whom she gave up her American citizenship, says he is going to marry the Parisian babe he met on a business trip. Kate wants him back. If this sounds uncomfortably close to teacher Marisa Tomei flying off to Italy to pursue a dream man in the emotionally bulldozing Only You, relax. Kate may be on the run, but director Lawrence Kasdan lets French Kiss take its sweet, smart and sexy time. It’s a film about love sneaking up on you.
The sneak in question is Luc, a French con man who meets Kate on the plane, uses her as a dupe in a jewel-smuggling scheme, helps her win Charlie back and then falls for her himself. The role would fit Gerard Depardieu exactement. Kasdan cast Kevin Kline instead. It’s a masterstroke. Kline finesses the role and the accent with the skill of a born farceur. Being rude brings a dancing flame to Luc’s eyes. When his masculinity is impugned, his mustache droops with his ego. Kline isn’t doing an impression, he inhabits the character. There are times you’d swear he is thinking in French. Kline is a marvel, equally persuasive as clown, rogue or incurable romantic “For me, bullshit is like breathing,” Luc tells Kate, who initially rejects him as a “nicotine saturated, hygiene deficient” pest. Foolish girl.
If there is such a thing as chemistry, Kline and Ryan have it. The Adam Brooks script covers old ground, but the actors make their own fresh tracks, and cinematographer Owen Roizman catches the subtle play of light on their faces. Kasdan, recalling his delicate touch in The Accidental Tourist, isn’t afraid to let a rueful note about love’s impermanence slip into the usual fluff. His French Kiss is an affair to remember.