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film review
  • French Girl
  • Written and directed by Mike Mitchell, Stephanie Ma Stine
  • Written by James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright
  • Starring Zach Braff, Evelyne Brochu, Luc Picard, Antoine Olivier Pilon, Isabelle Vincent, Charlotte Aubin, Muriel Dutil, with William Fichtner and Vanessa Hudgens
  • Classification 14A; 106 minutes
  • Opens in theatres March 15

In French Girl, Zach Braff stars as a New Yorker visiting Quebec, flailing disastrously in his efforts to impress his romantic partner’s imposing family. In the ensuing chaos, a family pet is harmed, a matriarch’s remains are violated and the French-Canadians, as fortified as old Quebec City, stay resistant to the English-speaker’s charms.

You probably figured out by now that this maple-flavoured rom-com is to Meet the Parents what Bon Cop, Bad Cop was to Lethal Weapon; and if none of what I have described so far has put you off, tire-toi une bûche!

Canada’s attempts at making commercially viable rom-coms that could crack the U.S. market have yielded far cringier results (The Right Kind of Wrong or Little Italy, anyone?) and at least one modern classic (The F Word). French Girl, which is opening in theatres at home and stateside, is a likeable-enough kick at the can(Con?).

Sure, the movie is as embarrassingly eager to please as its central character Gordon, the desperate boyfriend played by Zach Braff. But French Girl’s crude and at times infantile slapstick humour is offset by livelier beats between the cast, whose cross-cultural banter is littered with flashes of genuine wit. And writer-directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright were keen enough to realize the comic potential when casting William Fichtner and Mommy’s Antoine Olivier Pilon in winning supporting roles. They also discovered that a well utilized clip from the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport is the secret juice that could unite anglophones and francophones.

Woods and Wright, actors and writers whose previous screenplay credits include Independence Day: Resurgence, are each born, by their own admission, from romances mirroring what we see in French Girl. Their fathers are English-speaking Canadians who followed their moms to the land of poutine, which informs the dynamic in this love letter to their hometown.

Their comedy is set in and around the cobblestone, postcard-ready settings in old Quebec City, with CGI’d sunsets adding to the artificial romance, and the historic Chateau Frontenac becoming central to the action. That’s where an obnoxious reality TV host called Ruby Collins (former High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens) is setting up a new restaurant. She hopes to lure her old flame Sophie (Évelyne Brochu playing the titular French girl) to become executive chef.

Their queer romantic history, and general hotness (repeatedly pointed out by surrounding characters), makes things even more awkward for Braff’s Gordon. He’s left pining for Sophie at her family farm, contending with the unimpressed patriarch Alphonse (Luc Picard). Just like in Meet the Parents, the awkward suitor fails to live up to traditional codes of masculinity – Gordon’s Brooklyn arts teacher vibe corresponds to the earlier comedy’s whole male nurse gag.

Braff makes that humour work surprisingly well. He’s always been great at playing flustered, and does the most with the tense, hostile and even tender moments Woods and Wright cook up between the men. His scenes with Pilon – who as Sophie’s younger brother finds an endearing vulnerability when puffing out his chest – become the movie’s warm centre.

The chemistry between Braff and Brochu pales in comparison. Brochu is obviously wonderful, as anyone who caught her in Polytechnique and Café de Flore can attest. But she doesn’t have much to work with here. French Girl’s very male point of view leaves the women thinly sketched and often leaning on tropes; the easy vilification of Hudgens’ lesbian character, who boasts about being the child of a Filipina immigrant as if trying to earn “woke” points, is the most grating instance of this.

Other moments that grate include lighthearted jokes about police tasering a bike thief and a bit where Gordon, with a totally satisfied pandering expression, compliments Quebec City by saying, “look at this place, 400 years of history!” – as if nothing existed there the before the settlers arrived.

None of this takes away from what French Girl is going for or has to offer. It just makes me crave a CanCon rom-com where divisive cultural gaps are explored in a way that doesn’t feel so detached from reality, and this country’s history.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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