Forget Paris

WFTB Score: 13/20

The plot: When basketball referee Mickey Gordon travels to Paris to bury his father, romance is the last thing on his mind. However, a mix up by the airline throws Ellen Andrews in his path and the two fall under Paris’s spell before finally getting together in America. But marriage is just the beginning of their travails and as his friends assemble for a New York wedding, they eagerly wait to see whether Mickey will arrive alone or with Ellen by his side.

It’s a truth generally acknowledged that Woody Allen is – or at one time was – the king of the smart relationship comedy, which I think of as a separate genre to the romantic comedy (the former just getting into its stride at the point the latter usually ends). But many cinemagoers have never warmed to either Allen’s style or his persona, and even his most determined fans would concede that much of his later output has the whiff of grumpy old man about it. I mention this only because Forget Paris is exactly the sort of film Woody might have made if instead of becoming increasingly pessimistic he had taken a lighter, populist turn.

Crystal is Mickey Gordon, a respected if much-abused basketball referee whose constant travelling has prevented him from settling down, though cheerleaders have provided transitory company along the way. The death of Mickey’s estranged father takes him to Paris where the old man is due to be buried with his WWII buddies, but although Mickey gets off the plane his Dad doesn’t, causing Mickey immense frustration, though his anger is soothed somewhat by airline employee Ellen (Debra Winger) whose customer care goes as far as accompanying Mickey to the burial.

Since the pair get on well, Mickey stays on a while to see Paris’s ‘stuff’, which performs its usual magic as the couple make love after a hard day’s sightseeing. Mickey travels back to America but all he can think about is Ellen, ruining his refereeing skills, and he scoots back to Paris only to learn that Ellen is already married, albeit separated. However, the bond between them is so strong that Ellen turns up on Mickey’s doorstep back in the USA and the couple are married; unfortunately, this is when the couple’s trials really begin, as Ellen struggles to adapt to life in Mickey’s Los Angeles bachelor pad and his constant absence due to the demands of basketball.

As a compromise, Mickey tries to settle into a 9-to-5 job in suburbia but he is horrified by what comes with it: Ellen’s wonky old father (splendidly played by William Hickey) and – worse – Phantom of the Opera. Although Mickey belly-aches to his friends, he and Ellen try to make their marriage work, even going for IVF when Ellen cannot conceive naturally, but the strain becomes too much and Mickey goes back out on the road whilst Ellen takes a promotion – back in Paris.

Mickey and Ellen’s story is told with warmth, affection for its locations and as you would expect superb comic timing from Crystal, who provides a lot of laughs in his snippy exchanges with the people he has allowed to invade his cosy, sport-centric world. Surprisingly, Winger too proves that she can do comedy, her more serious demeanour lending even greater hilarity to the classic scene in which she ends up driving to a vet’s surgery with a pigeon attached to her hair (Meg Ryan would merely have been scatty, Winger feels genuinely cross).

I believed in and thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between the leads, even when they were crossing swords; so it’s a shame that the film doesn’t quite get to feature length before it runs out of steam. Forget Paris falters over the couple’s baby blues and whilst none of the IVF sequences are as embarrassing as Ben Elton’s ghastly Maybe Baby, in this film as in that one the difficulties of the process feel like the stuff of stand-up routines. With the baby issue plumping out the running time, the film then hastily comes back to the romance at the last minute and the reported nature of what happens (I won’t spoil it) feels tacked-on, however heart-warming or heart-breaking it may be.

Mickey and Ellen’s story is also told via the framing device of the imminent marriage of Mickey’s journalist friend Andy (Joe Mantegna) to Liz (Cynthia Stevenson), who has never met them, and the pre-wedding meal in a New York restaurant to which fellow friends Craig and Lucy (Richard Masur and Julie Kavner) also pitch up to tell tales. This is clever insomuch as Liz’s exaggerated reactions to the stories guide our own and keep us guessing as to the final outcome, but Andy and Liz also provide possibly the thinnest subplot in movie history as Liz suffers last-minute doubts about the forthcoming nuptials.

It’s here that you think Woody Allen might have shone, by providing the film’s secondary characters with a life and history of their own rather than being glorified narrators with quips; still, everyone plays their part gamely and it’s always nice to see Kavner in real life, (ie. not being Marge Simpson). Robert Costanzo too has a few scene-stealing lines as the restaurant’s engaging if increasingly impatient waiter.

Forget Paris isn’t as profoundly philosophical as Annie Hall, as polished or as winning as When Harry Met Sally, or remotely as passionate about the City of Love as Amélie (or a hundred other films); yet in its own low-key way Crystal’s movie is very effective, most of the time, and strikes a nice balance between the over-analytical nature of some of Allen’s work and the unthinking blancmange served up by lazy rom-coms (my last exposure to the oeuvre being The Holiday, to give you some idea of where I’m coming from). All in all, bien fait, Billy.

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