Wednesday 16 July 2014

Movie Review: Prelude To A Kiss (1992)

A romantic drama with fantastical elements, Prelude To A Kiss cleverly delves into intriguing topics but ultimately falls short of its mystical targets.

In Chicago, publishing house manager Peter Hoskins (Alec Baldwin) meets and falls in love with free-spirited bartender Rita Boyle (Meg Ryan). Peter experienced a rough childhood but maintains a positive outlook on life. By contrast Rita had a loving upbringing but is an abject pessimist despite a bubbly personality. Although she finds happiness with Peter, Rita never wants to have children because the world is an ugly place. Peter meets Rita's parents Dr. and Mrs. Boyle (Ned Beatty and Patty Duke), and soon thereafter Peter and Rita get married.

At the wedding ceremony, an uninvited old man called Julius (Sydney Walker) asks Rita for a kiss. She obliges, and he kisses her deeply. As the newlyweds start their honeymoon in Jamaica, Peter notices his bride is suddenly behaving very strangely. Indeed, she appears to be a completely different person than the woman he fell in love with. Upon returning to Chicago, the marriage is already in trouble, and Peter connects with Julius to try and understand what has happened to his Rita.

Craig Lucas adapted his own play to the screen, and the film version succeeds in liberating the story out of stage confines. Directed by Norman RenĂ©, Prelude To A Kiss is a refreshingly different romance, introducing two likeable leads and using their genuine love to ask some big questions. Peter is challenged to face up to what it means to be in a devoted lifelong marriage, and his commitment to the vows stated so easily during the ceremony is tested early.  The bond between physical presence and the essence of the human soul becomes a central question for Peter to grapple with and resolve.

These are not easy themes to delve into, and Prelude To A Kiss inevitably gets in too deep, despite the best of intentions. The film surrenders to fantasy elements that are an essential if metaphorical gateway to core ideas, and in doing so detaches itself too far from reality to achieve any emotional resonance. The film becomes an interesting vehicle to spark conversation, but without itself leaving any form of lasting impression.

The performances from Baldwin and Ryan are appealing, and they generate an amiable chemistry. Baldwin is sincere and manages to hold the centre of the film together as realism takes a back seat to an alternative and supernatural world. Ryan is her typical slightly over-bubbly self, the dream girlfriend with a potentially tiresome habit of over emoting. Despite her excessive bright-eyed expressions, the film does suffer when Ryan is absent for a prolonged segment in the second half.

Stage actor Sydney Walker delivers a moving performance as the old man seeking an unconventional new lease on life, and his scenes with Baldwin critically find the right tone, preventing the film from descending into tripe. Stanley Tucci and Kathy Bates appear in smallish roles.

Prelude To A Kiss thoughtfully explores the magic of romance, without necessarily creating magically romantic moments.

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