Prelude to a Kiss (1992) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual references
Running Time: 105 min.

Cast: Alec Baldwin, Meg Ryan, Sydney Walker, Ned Beatty, Patty Duke, Stanley Tucci, Kathy Bates, Richard Riehle
Director: Norman Rene
Screenplay: Craig Lucas (based on his play)

Review published November 20, 2003

Prelude to a Kiss is a film that is difficult to recommend, for the very simple reason that it contains a surprise in the story that you'll either love or you'll hate, depending on your expectations going in.  Of course, if you see that it is a Meg Ryan (Joe Versus the Volcano, Innerspace) comedy, you expect a sweet, silly, and funny comedy -- and it is -- but it's something more than that as well.  There's also an element of sadness and longing within the film that most Meg Ryan fans aren't quite accustomed to, so my best advice if you're going to give it a try, without giving away anything, is to not come in with set expectations, letting the story take you where it wants to go.

The film is adapted by Craig Lucas (The Secret Lives of Dentists, The Dying Gaul) from his own Tony-nominated play, which also featured Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, Working Girl) in the same role in its initial run.  Baldwin plays Peter Hoskins, a single, handsome New York resident that ends up meeting the woman of his dreams tending bar, a free-spirit eccentric named Rita (Ryan).  The two quickly become something more than just casual daters, eventually leading to Peter practically moving in with Rita, and thoughts of marriage creep in very early.  The big day does eventually come, but fate plays an ugly hand in the matter, as an event transpires to change the dynamic of the relationship forever, and now a blissful existence becomes just a bit too much to ever hope for.

Say what you will about the quality of the film as a whole, it at least tries to be just a little different from the norm.  While billed as a romantic comedy, I won't be spoiling the movie by calling this more of a philosophical fantasy musing, featuring elements both funny and tragic, not easily pigeonholed into any particular genre for an easy recommendation.  However, unlike many other films in the romantic comedy genre, this is one that actually deals with the sometimes difficult question of what it is about each other's nature that can make one person love another, and give themselves to each other so completely.  Director Norman Rene (Reckless) and screenwriter Lucas collaborate for the second straight time, coming after their critically acclaimed film about gay relationships in the face of the AIDS epidemic, Longtime Companion, and this film follows similar themes of sexual identity, impending tragedy, and what it means to be in a relationship that has little chance for future growth and happiness.

With more than enough food for thought to please viewers tired of the usual fare, Prelude to a Kiss is a smart, incisive, and very well-acted romance that I rank as one of the most underrated in the romantic comedy genre.  Meg Ryan surprises in a role with some depth, while Alec Baldwin completely sells the film with one of his finest performances, showing the comedy and tragedy of each scene without going for easy laughs or maudlin sentimentality.  It's fun because it is so daring, although Lucas does have the finesse to gloss over many of the film's more prurient angles with a touch of class and a sense of reserve that keeps the comic tone healthy throughout even the saddest of moments.

 Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo