French Girl movie review: Zach Braff romantic-comedy

French Girl Review: Très charmant

A Quebecois Meet the Parents

Zach Braff, Évelyne Brochu, and la belle province put on a charming display in the new Canadian romantic comedy French Girl. A fun-filled, light-hearted rom-com that will leave you yearning for a culinary escape to Quebec City, the film has a broad appeal that will resonate with audiences outside the genre.

Elementary school teacher Gordon (Braff) lives with his French-Canadian chef girlfriend Sophie (Brochu) in Brooklyn when she’s offered the opportunity to become Head Chef at a new restaurant in Quebec City. Keen to support Sophie’s culinary dreams, the couple heads to Quebec for the summer. Unbeknownst to Gordon, the kitchen at the chic new restaurant at the Château Frontenac is owned by none other than Sophie’s former lover, celebrity chef Ruby (Vanessa Hudgens). With plenty of opportunity for comedic misunderstandings and Québécois culture shock, Gordon is about to have a summer that will put his relationship and his sanity to the test.

Co-written and directed by James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright, French Girl brings genuine laughs and tender moments to its story. While the film’s plot relies on some rom-com cliches, it manages to rise above standard tropes to deliver a charming take on modern romance. It may wobble at times as it veers into slapstick territory, like when Gordon takes a quaalude instead of anti-anxiety medicine thus foiling his well-planned introduction to Sophie’s parents, but French Girl never loses track of its romantic heart.

It’s nice to see Braff take the lead in a rom-com, even if Gordon isn’t a drastically different type of character from what we are used to seeing him play. A little older and wiser than the last time he graced the big screen in a starring role, Braff’s Gordon is just endearingly goofy and awkward enough to be believable. He’s a man with simple dreams who has hitched his heart to a stunning culinary superstar. The actor is working overtime to turn on his charm and sell himself to not just Sophie’s family, but to viewers. So much so that at times it feels like Braff is doing too much, practically begging “please like me” to the camera.

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Brochu is radiant as chef Sophie, equally at home on her family’s farm and in Ruby’s state-of-the-art kitchen. She has a natural chemistry with Braff and her on-screen family. Braff, too, is great opposite Antoine Olivier Pilon as Sophie’s brother, Junior. From bonding over MMA and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, it’s refreshing to see a brotherly bond form between two men who on the surface have nothing in common but their love of Sophie.

Not all of French Girl is as successful. While the story is a refreshing take on queerness, with Sophie’s past same-sex relationship not used as a crutch or comedy, the love triangle subplot between Gordon, Sophie and Ruby feels somewhat ham-fisted. Sophie’s parents (Luc Picard and Isabelle Vincent) welcome Ruby with open arms, embracing her physically and metaphorically in a way they don’t with Gordon. But the problem is that Ruby just isn’t an emotionally attractive partner for Sophie. Her flaws are so obvious to the audience, not to mention the knowledge of their unsuccessful romantic history, that she never seems like a viable or compelling option. Everyone except Ruby and Gordon can easily recognize that she and Sophie don’t belong together. While having two characters completely clueless about their incompatibility can be a great set-up for a screwball comedy, it is never elevated to an exciting level here.

Evelyne Brochu and Vanessa Hudgens in French Girl

It’s hard to determine whether Hudgens is miscast in the role of Ruby, or if it’s just that the character is underwritten. It’s clear the actress does her best to play the seductive chef as written. While I warmed to her performance as the film progressed, Ruby feels cartoonish at times, even when compared to Gordon’s goofiness. She’s a cutthroat Martha Stewart who can’t read the room, serving only to make Gordon seem more pathetic than he really is, especially in the eyes of Sophie’s parents.

These may be story notes that audiences have seen before, but the uniquely French-Canadian twist breathes some life into the characters and plot. Take Meet The Parents’ tough-to-please dad (played by Robert DeNiro) who dotes on his pet cat and replace it with French Girl’s tough-to-please dad with a beloved pet swan, or the former film’s Owen Wilson and replace him with Hudgens in the latter, and you get the idea. Writers Woods and Wright seem to nail the tested rom-com genre formula but struggle with the more outlandish slapstick moments, especially between Gordon and his future father and brother-in-law.

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Despite its weaker moments, French Girl serves up genuine laugh-out-loud jokes and sweet surprises. An avowed hater of the rom-com genre, even I was not immune to French Girl’s ways, watching with a smile on my face, surprised at how much I enjoyed the film.

French Girl arrives in theatres on March 15.

French Girl: evelyne Brochu, Zach Braff, Vanessa Hudgens rom-com movie review



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