Between late June 1992 and early March 1993, I screened and critiqued 152 movies for an unpublished book of reviews entitled The Movie Critic: Book One. Instead of preparing for the difficult job of Student Council President (previously detailed in my eight-part series, Memories Of A Really Bad Student Council President), I began this project in order to become a better critic and writer. Unfortunately, for the most part, we’re talking about first drafts that are raw, overly focused on meaningless scene details and more plot summary than personal opinion. Since 2007, I’ve been sifting through these old reviews in an attempt to "rescue", if you will, these old thoughts and feelings, and transform them into something more polished and professional without losing the original intent. Thus far, eight of them have survived this process. (Look for my takes on Batman Returns, Housesitter, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Under Siege, Scent Of A Woman, The Crying Game and The Silence Of The Lambs in the Movie Reviews section.)
Prelude To A Kiss is number nine. I screened it at The Centre Mall Cinemas on July 15, 1992 and it was the seventeenth review in the original manuscript. As you’ll learn from this revised assessment, I didn’t expect to like it.
A few years after the film’s unsuccessful commercial run, Alec Baldwin stopped caring about looking good and became an acclaimed character actor. (His recent visit to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, where he repeatedly offered his impression of 30 Rock co-star Tracy Morgan, is the funniest interview he’s ever given.) Meg Ryan was steadily employed in mostly romantic films for the rest of the 1990s and despite a three-year absence this decade, she continues to work in high-profile Hollywood films. (Too bad about her lips.) Sydney Walker, who plays an important role in Prelude To A Kiss, died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 73. Norman Rene, who directed the movie, died of AIDS just four years after its release. He was only 45.
For the most part, this review retains a fair number of the original lines from that messy first draft. Oh sure. Certain sentences are tweaked here and there, and new lines have been written in to flesh out the original opinion, but this is essentially how I felt about the movie after the only time I screened it. Enjoy.
PRELUDE TO A KISS
97 minutes, 1992
Alec Baldwin–Peter Hoskins
Meg Ryan–Rita Boyle
Kathy Bates–Leah Blier
Ned Beatty–Marshall Boyle
Patty Duke–Mrs. Boyle
Produced by Michael Gruskoff and Michael I. Levy
Screenplay by Craig Lucas
Music by Howard Shore
Directed by Norman Rene
This movie surprised me. The trailer promised an unfunny love story with many predictable sequences. I thought I was about to see another stinker. But I was wrong. Dead wrong. Prelude To A Kiss is surprisingly enchanting and original.
Here’s the set-up: Peter Hoskins (Alec Baldwin) attends a late night party thrown by his friend Taylor (Stanley Tucci). He introduces Peter to a lovely young woman named Rita Boyle (Meg Ryan). She’s a bartender who loves to drink and dance wildly, and has been suffering from insomnia since she was 14. You can tell she’s into him because she wastes no time in attempting to get his shirt off. The attraction is mutual as they continue to dance and talk.
During the conversation, we learn that Rita could become a graphic designer but without the time and money to get the proper education, it remains a distant dream. Based on what has happened so far, we get the feeling Peter is smitten enough to want to see her again. He decides to check out the bar she works at and once again, they have an interesting chat.
As he is about to get into his personal history, Rita responds by saying, "Take your time. We can go to my place when you’re done." It turns out that Peter had a pretty traumatic childhood. He was raised by a set of grandparents at a young age because his own parents were too young to handle such an important responsibility. By the age of 12 his elderly guardians became deathly ill and were soon relocated to a nursing home. Seven years later, he decided to get away from it all and moved to Europe where he spent the next 10 years of his life. Amazingly, he contacted his birth parents by phone to let them know he was alright.
Now 30, he’s a solitary man looking for companionship in America. A fascinated Rita keeps her word as they walk and talk back to her place where they consummate the burgeoning relationship to some soft music. Later on, during a candlelit dinner, with The Cowboy Junkies’ version of Sweet Jane heard in the background, Peter pops the question. Rita accepts.
Then, the film takes an unusual turn. Rita, a natural pessimist, is worried about bad luck. Peter sees her before the outdoor ceremony which makes her very insecure. But in the next scene, they get married. Only one problem: Irwin (Sydney Walker).
He’s a nice old man who lives with his daughter (Kathy Bates) and her husband (Richard Riehle). For some unknown reason, while wishing the couple a good life he expresses a desire "to kiss the bride". Rita obliges. The result of that fateful kiss dramatically changes the dynamic of this new marriage.
Prelude To A Kiss features some terrific lead performances. Alec Baldwin is likeable as Peter. Meg Ryan is funny, kooky and intelligent as Rita. And Sydney Walker’s portrayal of the mysterious old man is touching. The supporting cast is also good. Kathy Bates is fine as Irwin’s daughter, and Ned Beatty and Patty Duke are perfectly cast as Rita’s even kookier parents.
Craig Lucas adapted the script from his Tony Award-nominated play. (Baldwin and Walker originated these characters on stage.) As well written as it is, it could’ve been funnier. It’s not a big-laugh kind of comedy but there are some witty one-liners, nonetheless. The real draw of the film is the wonderful, surprising romance between Ryan and Baldwin. (This is a love story, ultimately.) They look good together and I liked their chemistry. And even when Irwin enters the picture and turns the entire relationship upside down, the quality of the film doesn’t dip. Baldwin’s loyalty to his new wife is truly tested here.
With an ending only Hollywood could dream up, Prelude To A Kiss is an original worth seeing.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, July 30, 2009
CORRECTION: Originally, I noted that seven reviews from The Movie Critic: Book One had been "rescued" for this website. I had forgotten about my review of The Crying Game which also came from that unpublished manuscript. As a result, Prelude To A Kiss is the ninth review revised and restored, not the eighth as originally noted.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, August 13, 2009