Judge Lindsey Hoffman says this movie is a prelude to boredom.
Have you ever really, really wanted to be someone else?
We all know about that nasty post-honeymoon shock that occurs when a husband realizes that the woman he married is not who he thought she was. It happens to a lot of people. In Peter's case, though, this realization is literally true; due to a metaphysical mishap that occurred at the wedding reception, his beautiful blonde wife is actually an old man. Alec Baldwin, Meg Ryan, and some guy named Sydney Walker star in this romantic drama which is slow, yet insightful, yet…slow.
Facts of the Case
Peter and Rita meet at a party; she's drunk and he's bored. They are instantly attracted to one another, and thus begins a quirky six-week relationship that culminates in a spontaneous marriage proposal, and the next thing you know they're reciting vows before a minister in her parents' sunlit back yard.
There is an old man at the wedding, a red-eyed, shambling lump of a man. Nobody seems to know who he is. When he sees the bride, his face lights up. He kisses her for luck, and time seems to stand still; the sky grows suddenly dark, and the two of them discover that they have mysteriously switched souls—or rather, their souls have switched bodies. How they react to the change, and how Peter deals with this unexpected problem, make for a wistful tale that asks some thought-provoking questions about life and death, love and identity.
This could be the setup for a gross-out comedy or a horror film. Instead, Prelude to a Kiss plays it straight. It's a reasonably intelligent story about reasonably intelligent people whose lives have been thrown off track by an impossible twist of fate. Naturally, the folks at Fox had a little trouble figuring out how to promote such an un-pigeonhole-able picture, so the theatrical trailer (included on the disc) bills it as somewhere between a cute romantic comedy and a supernatural thriller. In fact, this film doesn't run on gags or thrills; it's understated, meditative, and dialogue-driven.
The characters of Peter, Rita, and the old man are the exclusive focus of the film. Peter is played by Alec Baldwin (The Hunt for Red October, State and Main) as the philosophical young man who finds that his dreams have first come true, and then become some sort of bizarre nightmare. The story unfolds from his perspective and with his bemused narration. Meg Ryan (Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail) turns in a credible performance, both as the mercurial Rita and as an old man trying to make the most of his new lease on life. And Sydney Walker—primarily a stage and television actor—does quite a remarkable job of acting like a young woman in an old man's body. A few brief appearances by Ned Beatty and Patty Duke as Rita's parents also deserve mention, as they are some of the highlights of the film.
The anamorphic transfer is bright and clear, with only the occasional print flaw (which I only notice because I'm looking for these things). The mellow, easygoing score and the all-important dialogue are quite clear, even if they don't make tremendous use of the soundtrack's 4.0 capabilities.
The disc contains no extras save the original trailer and five bonus promotional trailers. I confess that the film doesn't really seem to demand any more than that, though a little background on the actors would be helpful (as most of us have never even heard of Sydney Walker).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite all that it has going for it, Prelude to a Kiss just doesn't work. It starts out slow and never picks up speed. It is the longest 106-minute movie I have ever seen. I already said it was dialogue-driven, but on second thought, that was an understatement: it's all dialogue. And not particularly lively dialogue, either. The pacing of the conversations is realistic, but hardly compelling. I enjoy a lot of deliberate, thoughtful films, but this one had me rolling my eyes and pleading with the characters to get on with it already.
The screenplay, by Craig Lucas, was modified from a stage play, also by Craig Lucas. I'm told that it's actually quite a good play, and I believe it. There is an indefinable magic to live drama that eludes even the best film, just as a concert is somehow a more powerful experience than a flawlessly-produced recording. It's different when real people are living out these crises right in front of you. Here, without the immediacy of the stage, Prelude to a Kiss drags.
Could it work? Could Lucas have trimmed back the talk a bit, maybe added a livelier scene or two? Could director Norman René have tightened up the pacing to good effect? Possibly; there is certainly room for improvement. Prelude to a Kiss could conceivably be something more than a filmed version of a play. But if you ask me, this play didn't lend itself well to film in the first place.
Rent Prelude to a Kiss if you're in a pensive mood and willing to watch something that requires a bit of patience. It's not without its rewards, but it doesn't belong on your must-see list, either—unless you're interested in seeing how not to translate stage drama to film.
The accused is pronounced guilty of turning a good play into a mediocre movie. Not bad enough to merit any sort of actual sentencing, but not good enough to earn the court's commendation, either.
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• Original Theatrical Trailer
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