Friday May 19, 1995
Billy Crystal plays a National Basketball Assn. referee in "Forget Paris," which means he makes a lot of jokes about a short guy yelling at tall guys. He milks his gift for yammering, he milks us for tears and he milks us for yocks too. Crystal's got quite a dairy farm going here. As the films's star/co-writer/director/producer, he keeps pumping away. Some of his antics are screamingly funny, but a lot of them run dry.
The film begins with a Woody Allen-ish framing device with a sportswriter, Andy (Joe Mantegna), and his fiancee, Liz (Cynthia Stevenson), waiting in a restaurant for the arrival of their guests to celebrate their nuptials. Andy fills in the time telling her about the on-and-off romantic odyssey of his friend Mickey (Crystal) and Mickey's wife, Ellen (Debra Winger). As Andy's guests file in--car salesman Craig (Richard Masur) and his wife, Lucy (Julie Kavner, wonderful as always) and NBA coach Jack (John Spencer) and Lois (Cathy Moriarty), both on their second marriage--the Mickey Andy and Ellen saga is spun out in a series of flashbacks that stretch from Paris to Marina del Rey.
Crystal and his co-screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel are trying to anatomize the post-honeymoon blues that settle into most marriages. Meeting in Paris, Mickey and Ellen start out in a blissful trance. He's there to inter his father in a World War II burial ground with his comrades; she's the Paris-based airlines executive in charge of tracking down the coffin mislaid en route.
It's a contrived case of Meet Cute, and it's followed by a lot of Romance Cute, as Crystal takes us on a lickety-split swoon-a-thon that leads to marriage and not-so-happily ever after. Mickey's job, which he loves, keeps him on the road; Ellen chafes at her own indolence and overeats. Then it's his turn to stay home on job leave while she plays career woman. Her doddering father (William Hickey) moves in with them. It's like Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes From a Marriage" retooled by gag writers.
The core of any romantic movie--comedy or drama or any combination in between--is chemistry. And Crystal and Winger never seem to be in the same movie. Partly this is because Crystal doesn't seem to be acting with anybody else; his performance appears to be taking place in front of a vanity mirror. Winger can't get anything going with him except a wavering rat-a-tat-tat comic rapport. When she's in the movie's zoned-out post-bliss phase, she's blank.
And it's not the kind of expressive blankness that lets you into her unhappiness. It's more like a blah blankness. A movie about the disconnect between husband and wife turns into a movie about the disconnect between Crystal and Winger. As the film winds its weary way through all the permutations of fizzled ardor, we keep waiting for the explosive funny stuff to take us away from the "serious" stuff.
It could be that Crystal feels the same way. As filmmaker and performer, he doesn't seem to have his heart in the marriage woe material--or, to put it another way, * all he offers is heart. Not since the heyday of Jerry Lewis has there been a comic actor so entranced with his heartfelt sappiness.
But you can't count "Forget Paris" out. Crystal is enough of a showman to work up some high-flown gags, and a few of them, particularly one involving Ellen and a pigeon glued to her head (trust me) are classics. Although they're finally overdone, the scenes with William Hickey puttering dazedly about the house are great, sick set-pieces; and so are some of the basketball moments, such as the sequence where Mickey self-destructs and throws Kareem Abdul-Jabbar out of his own farewell game. When he's not trying to strong-arm us into recognizing what a sensitive-souled laff-riot he is, Crystal creates a real comic buzz on-screen. It almost compensates for all the times you want him to buzz off.
Forget Paris, 1995. PG-13, for language, including some sex-related dialogue. A Columbia Pictures release of a Castle Rock Entertainment presentation of a Face production. Director Billy Crystal. Producer Billy Crystal. Executive producer Peter Schindler. Screenplay by Crystal, Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel. Cinematographer Don Burgess. Editor Kent Beyda. Costumes Judy Ruskin. Music Marc Shaiman. Production design Terence Marsh. Set decorator William Seirton. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes. Billy Crystal as Mickey. Debra Winger as Ellen. Joe Mantegna as Andy. Julie Kavner as Lucy.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times