Produced, directed by Billy Crystal. Executive producer, Peter Schindler. Co-producer, Kelly Van Horn. Screenplay, Crystal, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel. Packed with a potentially unwieldy mix of shtick, bathos, sitcom-friendly slapstick and echoes of Woody Allen’s angst-ridden yuppie romances, “Forget Paris” teeters on the edge of disaster, just like the dauntless courtship that serves as the core of this comedic look at midlife love and marriage. But, amazingly, actor-co-writer-director-producer Billy Crystal manages to keep the predictable plotline and discordant elements from stymieing the pic’s pull on the tear ducts and prod to the funny bone. Lots of big laughsand a sweet if sometimes sticky take on love amongst the regular folks will satisfy the date-night crowd and add up to solid box office. Wild card here is how moviegoers fresh from Lawrence Kasdan’s Meg Ryan starrer “French Kiss” will respond to the second Paris-based romantic comedy in a month.
Story utilizes a framing device often seen in Allen’s films. Sportswriter Andy (Joe Mantegna) and his fiancee, Liz (Cynthia Steven-son), a 40ish duo on the verge of nuptials, are sitting in a restaurant waiting for other members of their celebratory dinner party to arrive. While they wait, Andy starts regaling Liz with the details of the romantic travails of his friends, Mickey (Crystal) and Ellen (Debra Winger).
As the story unfolds, other guests arrive, including car salesman Craig (Richard Masur) and his wife, Lucy (Julie Kavner), who add their own details to the Mickey-and-Ellen legend, which grows darker as the tale unwinds. As one of the storytellers remarks, “Nobody should tell this story to someone who is about to be married.”
It seems that Mickey, one of the top referees in the NBA, fell in love with airline exec Ellen four years earlier while visiting Paris on a mission to bury his father with his World War II regiment. Love in Paris was everything we’ve seen in movies from the past, including funny berets, soulful saxophone players beside the Seine and lots of touristy shots of the Eiffel Tower.
While the couple’s week in Paris was full of laughs, trysts and visits to the Louvre, the marriage that follows is a nightmare of Los Angeles and San Fernando Valley ennui, exacerbated by mismatched job schedules, separations due to Mickey’s travels with the NBA and the normal disarray of two set-in-their-ways middle-age people with wildly disparate personalities.
Their resolve to overcome all of the above is what Crystal is determined to celebrate, rather than the easy love and good times that happen during romantic getaways in foreign locales. Crystal’s tackling the Woodman’s territory here, and if he doesn’t match Allen’s masterful writing and sure-handed visual compositions, he does offer the same kind of sobering insight into relationships that grace Allen’s best efforts.
Also, like Allen at his best, Crystal at the top of his game can shotgun one-liners and bon mots while setting up comedic set pieces that deliver howling laughs. Particularly funny is Crystal’s take on Mickey’s nervous breakdown during Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s farewell tour and Ellen’s frenzied attempt to rescue a forlorn pet.
Stevenson takes a supporting part that is basically reactive and just about steals the movie. Her enthusiasm for hearing the tale of Mickey and Ellen will be matched by couples in the audience who are hungry for a movie that limns contemporary married life without resorting to easy solutions or pulled punches.
The rest of the cast is sturdy, as is the lensing and Crystal’s generally unobtrusive direction.
The story, co-written by Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, is the star. As an ode to couples who have learned that they are, as Mickey says of their relationship, “better together than (they) are apart,””Forget Paris” is memorable.