‘I Kissed a Girl’ (‘Toute Premiere Fois’): Film Review

Coming In Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Gaumont

Coming In Still - H 2015

And I didn’t like it

Noemie Saglio and Maxime Govare direct this French comedy about a groom going straight

There have been marriage comedies, remarriage comedies, marriage crashing comedies and marriage counseling comedies. But until now there have been very few, if any, gay marriage comedies.

That all changes with I Kissed a Girl (Toute Premiere Fois), a high-concept French chuckler about a happily engaged Parisian who finds his wedding plans upended when he sleeps with a woman “for the very first time” (per the original title). It’s a fun pitch in an otherwise formulaic and not very funny attempt to cull laughs from a hot-button topic – gay marriage has been legal in France for less than two years, and was voted in despite livid national protests – in a film that plays strictly by the rom-com rulebook, switching out the sexes but bringing little else to the table.

Marking the feature debut of writing-directing duo Noemie Saglio and Maxime Govare, and introducing the unknown Adrianna Gradziel as a Swedish bombshell who foils the nuptials of a sexually confused Pio Marmai (Maestro), Girl is both lively and timely enough to score decent returns in Gaul and other French-speaking lands. Response overseas will probably be less enthusiastic, while a Hollywood remake may depend on which way the Supreme Court swings this coming June.

Although the 2007 Adam Sandler-Kevin James starrer, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, featured two straight men feigning a civil union for insurance purposes, same-sex marriage has yet to be exploited in commercial movies, though that’s likely to change as laws and mores evolve. In the case of I Kissed a Girl, the filmmakers adopt a familiar scenario a la Runaway Bride or other such alter-ditching affairs, yet hardly address the questions of gender, sexuality and identity that their movie raises. It’s basically a shallow Runaway Groom with an extra groom tossed into the mix.

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The story kicks off with athletic 34-year-old Jeremie (Marmai) waking up in bed with the gorgeous, carefree Adna (Gradziel) after a drunken one-night stand. (Cue lame opening gag involving a house cat and a used condom.) The catch is that Jeremie is about to be engaged to his boyfriend of ten years, Antoine (Lannick Gautry), a charming and laid-back doctor who makes a great impression on everyone, including his wacky set of future in-laws (Frederic Pierrot, Isabelle Candelier).

Jeremie’s fling with Adna throws a major monkey wrench at his wedding plans, as he’s clearly become smitten with the Swede without quite knowing why. He seeks advice from his best pal and business partner, Charles (Franck Gastambide), a bona fide hetero who does all he can to dissuade Jeremie from changing sides, including a lengthy session of locker room dick-slapping. What else are friends for?

But for reasons justified by some extremely precipitous screenwriting, Charles then hires Adna to work at their office. Soon enough, she and Jeremie begin spending inordinate amounts of time together, with Antoine starting to suspect foul play. As the lies pile up along with plenty of quid pro quos, Jeremie finds himself facing THE BIG DECISION: stay gay and get married, or play it straight and screw up his life.

It’s well-tread territory that’s been mined in umpteen other comedies, though never quite this way. Yet despite the original twist that Saglio and Govare give to a routine narrative, they never tackle the sticky subject of sexual preference that seems to lie at the heart of it: Jeremie seems to be in love with Adna because she’s spontaneous and wild and the polar opposite of Antoine, not because she’s a woman.

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In that respect, you could be generous and say that I Kissed a Girl is gender-blind in its claim that real love is oblivious of X or Y chromosomes, that it’s simply about looking into someone’s eyes and knowing the truth (as Jeremie keeps doing with Adna). But that seems like a major cop-out in a movie that barely deals with the internal problems of its hero: the one hint that Jeremie may not be like other gay men is when his uber-gay artist friend (Sebastien Castro) – whose new show features giant oil paintings of [sigh] oversized vaginas – says that he was “never really into Lady Gaga.”

With the more interesting issues cast aside, what’s left is a film whose plot mechanics take precedence over character development, especially in a third act that races to the finish line without much fanfare or humor. This is a comedy after all, yet Girl barely lands a good joke, with a few scenes that lean toward the cringe-worthy – especially one where Marmai performs a racy striptease number to Screamin Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” that’s so flat-footed and out of sync, it would cause any man or woman to take a vow of abstinence for several years.

Made with what seems like a mid-sized budget, with much of the action staged in several giant, over-decorated apartments that few actual Parisians have access to, this is a handsomely packaged affair – especially the cast – that benefits from slick widescreen cinematography (by Jerome Almeras, The French Almeras) and an upbeat score (by Mathieu Lamboley, Nice and Easy). It all looks great yet doesn’t add up to much – a marriage of convenience that makes little sense.

Production companies: Les Improductibles, Kaly Productions, Gaumont, M6 Films
Cast: Pio Marmai, Franck Gastambide, Adrianna Gradziel, Lannick Gautry, Frederic Pierrot, Camille Cottin
Directors, screenwriters: Noemie Saglio, Maxime Govare
Producers: Sidonie Dumas, Renaud Chelelekian, Edouard Duprey
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Christian Marti
Costume designer: Frederic Cambier
Editor: Beatrice Herminie
Composer: Mathieu Lamboley
Casting directors: David Bertrand, Arda
Sales: Gaumont

No rating, 98 minutes