Forget Paris

(Billy Crystal, USA, 1995)


As a director, Billy Crystal is fast shaping up as American show biz’s equivalent to Australia’s Bob Ellis. His films are maudlin, amateurish, narcissistic, brittle, overlong, smarmy and misogynist. They have the creaky feel of a stand-up routine in a Las Vegas nightclub long, long ago. And yet, as with Ellis, Crystal’s work is undeniably personal – it demands to be taken, warts and all, as a testament to himself.

Forget Paris is certainly a quantum improvement on Crystal’s previous directorial effort, Mr Saturday Night (1992), which had no redeeming features whatsoever. Here the sappy, self-flagellating stuff has been minimised, and the jokes (co-written by Crystal, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) come much faster.

After he was such a hit in When Harry Met Sally (1989), Crystal decided to hitch his wagon to the mid ’90s romantic comedy revival. Mickey (Crystal) is a big-league basketball referee who travels to a picture-postcard Paris and falls in love with Ellen (Debra Winger). The film poses the classic question of this genre: what happens when the initial fireworks go out, and love must be integrated into the everyday world of work commitments and domestic drudgery?

Crystal cleverly adopts a modish narrative style deriving from the films of Woody Allen (especially Broadway Danny Rose, 1984) and Rob Reiner (The Princess Bride, 1987). The story is told via an ever-expanding gabfest of friends of the couple gathering in a restaurant. False trails, repetitions, ellipses, competing points of view all come gingerly into play.

As neurotic, Jewish comedies go, this one relies far more on verbal than visual or physical humour – in other words, it is more Woody Allen than Jerry Lewis. Even the many rapid-fire scenes of Crystal on the basketball court among the real-life giants of the game show him virtually paralysed from the neck down, flapping his gums and flexing his eyebrows like crazy.

Although this is certainly one of the funniest and better-crafted romantic comedies of its year, its sexual politics are pretty frightening. Debra Winger has a thankless, straight-woman role alongside the relentlessly wisecracking Crystal; she even has to speak numerous lines complimenting the guy on what a dazzling wit he is.

And while the film clearly acknowledges the modern dilemmas of the independent career woman, it does everything in its power to slide over the fact that, in this tale, the woman always ends up sacrificing more than the man does for the sake of eternal love.

© Adrian Martin July 1995

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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