MF 351 : Summer movie series: Forget Paris (1995)
Updated: Aug 21
Note: the summer movie series will air on Fridays.
Why Forget Paris shouldn't be forgotten
When Forget Paris came out in 1995 it had a tough, arguably unfair hill to climb. Say the words "Billy Crystal" and "romcom" and you automatically think of When Harry Met Sally (1989). That was the genre defining film of the 80s and 90s, and still stands the test of time. So, when it was announced that Billy Crystal would star in another romcom that was only a few years removed from that aforementioned classic, expectations were high. Even the marketing people seemed aware of this as the commercials billed it the movie that shows "what happens after Harry meets Sally;" despite it not being a sequel. While the summary is spot on, marketing it this way probably didn't do Forget Paris any favors as it put it right in the shadow of the best romantic comedy of all time. In a way, it has a similar problem to Oliver's Story, which I covered last month. Whereas that film's predecessor, Love Story, is one of the popular rom-dramas of all time, Oliver's Story proved to be far less popular with critics and audiences.
Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan's film falls into the "how they got together" category, which makes up the majority of romcoms. It's a tried and true formula of boy-meets-girl, they fall in love, they face obstacles, they overcome said obstacles, and by the end... you know the rest. Forget Paris (1995) has all of this. In fact, the love story happens fairly quickly. Andy (Joe Mantegna) tells his fiance Liz (Cynthia Stevenson) how Mickey Gordon (Billy Crystal) and Ellen Andrews (Debra Winger) met and fell in love, while celebrating their own upcoming nuptials at an Italian restaurant. As Liz becomes more wrapped up in the story, others join in the celebration: Craig (Richard Masur) and Lucy (Julie Kavner), and later, Jack (John Spencer) and Lois (Cathy Moriarty), all of whom are friends of Mickey and Ellen's.
Before the champagne is refilled, we've seen a series of flashbacks detailing Mickey and Ellen's "meet cute" in Paris. Mickey flew there to bury his estranged father who served in WWII, and whose dying wish was to be buried in France with his comrades. Along the way, the airline somehow loses the casket and Mickey ends up stranded at the airport, waiting for the snafu to be sorted out. There he meets Ellen, an expat who works at the airline as an executive, and the two fall into a whirlwind romance over the next several days. While sparks fly, it's not clear how they're going to make this work. Mickey is a lifelong bachelor and his job as an NBA ref has him traveling constantly. Ellen loves her life in Paris but is also dealing with a crumbling marriage that has made her life miserable. How these two end up together would be enough for one whole movie but it's only the first act. I'm not giving away anything by saying that Mickey and Ellen do end up together since we're a long ways away from the closing credits.
Forget Paris (1995) has a great quirky love story. How many other films could turn a lost casket and a funeral into a setting for a romance? But that's just the appetizer. The movie is really about how two people who find one another a little later in life, navigate the complexities of marriage. Mickey and Ellen are headstrong, stubborn and have passions and careers that seem antithetical to being in a relationship, much less a commitment that lasts "till death do you part." Through their story, as told by their friends, we experience Mickey and Ellen's ups and downs as they compromise, fail to compromise, fight, make up, fight again, and make up again. We start with two lovesick people dancing along the river Seine, singing "Our Love is Here to Stay" in their charming, out-of-tune synchronicity. By the middle of the movie, they're arguing about Ellen's dad (William Hickey), veal parmigiana, and parking spots.
Forget Paris isn't When Harry Met Sally and that's a good thing. We've seen the climb up Mt. Romance many times before. Yet, few romcoms explore the day-to-day grind of marriage after the couple says "I do." This movie shows us that keeping the magic alive requires more than simply gazing into one another's eyes, and that "happily ever after" isn't guaranteed. Through Mickey and Ellen, we see that marriage requires a lot of work, understanding, tolerance, compromise, and a leap of faith. This is a very real and relatable movie about two characters who we genuinely like and are rooting for to make it to the finals. We feel like we know them and could easily be sitting at that dinner, sharing our own "Mickey and Ellen" stories.
While it might not be the greatest love story of all time, Forget Paris (1995) is a wonderful, highly underrated film that manages to keep you believing in "ever after" long after the hazy days of the honeymoon have passed.
Fantastic, underrated film expertly written and directed by Billy Crystal who also stars as the main character.
The story cleverly uses a midpoint-start flashback device that keeps the viewer engaged while balancing its ensemble cast. The film manages this without getting cluttered or confusing.
Witty writing and humor.
Phenomenal soundtrack that includes many jazz greats.
Call me biased but I don't have any criticisms of the film.
***** (out of five)
Where you can watch Forget Paris (1995)
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