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French Girl Review: Meet Les Parents

Zach Braff in bed as Gordon Kinski in the romantic comedy French Girl

Throw virtually every romantic comedy trope and situation into a blender, sprinkle in a few likable performances, and you have French Girl.

The romantic comedy is one of the few genres where a film can barely stray from a predetermined formula with little innovation or originality and still get by year after year. Case in point: French Girl, the directorial debut from Nicolas Wright and James A. Woods. What mostly causes a rom-com to stand out, especially when the story isn’t trying anything new, is one or more performances from its lead actors – and, in some cases, a supporting player – and the chemistry between them. French Girl has that, but it never really makes any additional effort to distinguish itself.

The film stars Zach Braff as Gordon Kinski and Evelyne Brochu as Sophie Tremblay, a long-dating couple in New York. He’s a middle school English teacher, and she’s a chef at a restaurant of ill-defined success. Gordon’s plans to propose are put on hold when Sophie gets an opportunity to interview for a sous chef position at a Michelin-starred restaurant in her hometown of Quebec, which just happens to be run by her ex, Ruby (Vanessa Hudgens). As much as Braff can be an acquired taste for general audiences, he is enjoyable enough as a romantic leading man here. He handles the physical comedy as well as he did in his Scrubs days, and his chemistry with Brochu goes a long way in keeping French Girl afloat.

Unfortunately, the problem is that Gordon and Evelyne are separated for long stretches of the film, and the remaining movie is filled with generic rom-com material that felt outdated 15 years ago. If Meet the Parents had taken place in French Canada, and was significantly less quotable, you’d have French Girl. I appreciate how nonchalantly Wright and Woods, who wrote the screenplay, handle the topic of bisexuality here. It’s not a big deal that Evelyne dated women before Gordon, and it’s an accepted fact within her family. This makes the apparent love triangle between Evelyne, Gordon, and Ruby more palpable, even when Ruby never really poses a major threat.

Vanessa Hudgens as Ruby Collins and Zach Braff as Gordon Kinski in the romantic comedy French Girl
(L – R) Vanessa Hudgens as Ruby Collins and Zach Braff as Gordon Kinski in the romantic comedy French Girl (Paramount Global Content Distribution Group)

Hudgens, and virtually every actor, seem comfortable leaning into their roles, but these are broadly drawn characters in even broader circumstances. The film takes virtually every rom-com trope that’s become tried and true over the years and throws them into a blender, and the result is a generic soup of set pieces. Of course Gordon gets into all manner of misunderstandings and hijinx with Evelyne’s family, including her farmer father Alphonse (Luc Picard) and her brother Junior (Antoine Olivier Pilon), who aspires to be a cop. If I were to tell you there’s a scene involving an engagement ring and a corpse, you’ll likely get an accurate idea of what happens within the film. At no point was I surprised by a character or story beat, or have much of a rooting interest in anything beyond a pre-ordained outcome.

In spite of my criticisms, I don’t think that French Girl is a waste of time. The performances from Braff, Brochu, and Hudgens are lively and engaging, and it’s fun seeing them interact with each other, especially when the alcohol starts flowing – and you’ll be shocked at how often this happens. You can’t always eat prime rib. Sometimes a McRib is all that’s available. But we live in an age when anyone at any time can dial up any number of classic, beloved romantic comedies at the push of a button, and French Girl is kind of like being served a McRib when the prime rib is sitting right in front of you.

French Girl will be released in US theaters on March 15 and on digital on March 19, 2024.

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