I’m just going to write from the heart here. I had a plan for this piece, which has been simmering inside me for quite a while. It was going to be a feel-good story with a happy outcome, or at least a few answers, but here’s the thing, I don’t have any answers. It’s Day 362 of my lockdown and French Kiss still isn’t available to stream anywhere. As in nowhere, not on any major streaming services, not as an individual title available for purchase on Amazon, not On Demand, nowhere, gone. And it’s eating me up.
Okay I’ll take a step back. Why are you reading about this on a site dedicated to crime fiction? Well, glad you asked. French Kiss is a crime film. It may be a picture perfect representation of the phenomenon known affectionately as the “90s rom-com,” but it’s also a solid crime caper about a jewel thief trying to get his loot back after a blundered smuggling episode with a charming neurotic.
Which reminds me, a quick disclaimer: I’m just going to be going off memory as I describe the movie. Sometimes I’ll be vague. Sometimes the level of detail may strike you as absurd. I’m going to assume some of you saw this movie, because it did pretty well on first release ($100+ million at the worldwide box office) and had a good run on cable thereafter, but I’m also going to assume you haven’t seen it as many times as I have (only my sister, Franny Murphy, can make that claim), and in any case, as I said, it’s not available anywhere online and hasn’t been for a while, so probably we could all use a refresher.
Here, then, is the refresher. Meg Ryan plays a woman engaged to a milquetoast Canadian and for some reason she desperately wants to become a Canadian herself. It has to do with his family, and her wanting to be a part of it. The milquetoast Canadian is played by Timothy Hutton and he goes off to France for business, as Canadians sometimes do, and there meets a beautiful young woman and dumps his wonderful fiancée, whose name I’m now remembering to mention is Kate. Kate has a crippling fear of flying, but she books an Air France ticket to go get her man back. Next to her on the plane is a rakish, somewhat boorish man in a leather jacket who purposefully distracts her with his obnoxiousness so that she won’t freak out during takeoff. It’s a weirdly sweet gesture, and an all-time fun meet-cute. This man, this rake, this rogue hustler, is Luc Teyssier, played by Kevin Kline. At the airport on the other end, Luke puts his stolen diamonds in Kate’s handbag, guessing correctly that she won’t get stopped by customs. He’s expecting to boost them back out of her purse outside, but for some reason, I forget why, it’s more difficult than that, and they get thrown together on a whirlwind journey. He decides in a very French and chauvinist way he’s going to teach her how to compete with French women and help her get her milquetoast Canadian back. They travel to the south of France in pursuit of same, and along the way stop off in Luc’s hometown in a wine-producing region. Here he reveals that he needs money and/or gems in order to buy back his family’s vineyard, or part of it, from his oafish brother. There’s another really lovely scene where Luc shows Kate his curio cabinet of dirt. Down in the south, Kate uses her newly-learned French tricks to catch her fiancé’s eye, while Luc seduces the French woman who took the man away in the first place. But then, you know, Kate and Luc realize that they were meant to be together. There’s a sensational blue dress involved, diamonds on the neck, moonlight on the cheek, a waft of terroir, and a great soundtrack helping them along.
So that’s French Kiss. It’s delightful, I think. It’s been a while since I saw it, but generally when asked to rank 90s rom-coms, and I’m asked that more frequently than you might think, I put it in the top five. Which prompts people who came to maturity in the digital age to ask the inevitable follow-up, what the hell is French Kiss? This is a movie made by none other than Lawrence Kasdan, I respond, the auteur behind the greatest erotic thriller ever made, Body Heat, and yes, he was working off somebody else’s script (Adam Brooks), a script commissioned by Meg Ryan as a vehicle for herself, and Kasdan seems to have taken the job at least in part because he was exhausted from making Wyatt Earp and wanted a vacation in France with some friends, but this is also one of the prime works from an under-appreciated artist-muse relationship, the one Kasdan had with Kevin Kline, who appeared in four Kasdan pictures, most memorably The Big Chill, but most brilliantly, many believe (read, again, me and Franny), in French Kiss. Now, you’ll find some people mocking Kline’s French accent but that’s because they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Nobody is saying Kline speaks French. He did not, he does not. The role was originally meant for Gerard Depardieu, who also has quite an accent when speaking English, but that’s beside the point. Kline embodies a perfect scumbag-with-a-heart-of-gold figure that you just don’t see in the movies often, and never pulled off with this degree of wit, assurance, and charisma. I’m entirely certain that Luc’s advice on love is not kosher by today’s standards; probably it wasn’t great back then, either. But I believe every word he’s saying, because this is Kevin Kline and we’re living for two hours in an enchanted world of diamonds, dresses and wine.
Okay now back to the initial problem I was mentioning before. This movie isn’t available anywhere. That’s pretty rare in these days of sprawling streaming services with back catalogues long enough to make your eyes bleed, but it happens once in a while. Usually it’s a rights issue. Ugh, I know what you’re thinking, it’s a legal matter, he’ll never get to the bottom of this. But, reader, before I was a writer, before I took over as editor of this website, I was a lawyer specializing in intellectual property, specifically copyrights. When I sat down to this project, there was a part of me that honestly believed my entire professional career was leading to this moment, where I would solve the riddle and unlock French Kiss from its licensing purgatory. But I’m admitting defeat. I have no idea what’s going on with this thing. More often than not, when a movie is lost to digital streaming, the reasons boils down to one of two scenarios: the home video rights were sold to a company that has since gone out of business without managing to sell its catalogue in an orderly fashion; or, the digital rights are active and known, but were sold at some point in the distant past to a company (say, a liquor distributor, or a home cleaning products conglomerate) that has since abandoned its plans to form an entertainment division, and nobody at that company has had the incentive, ability, or wherewithal to sell or license those rights to Netflix. Nine times out of ten your digital limbos can be explained this way. But I can’t seem to fit French Kiss into the box. It was made by Twentieth Century Fox and Polygram, which more or less got broken up and sold off but mostly ended up with Universal Pictures. The home video rights were handled by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, now owned by Disney. These are major, major players in the streaming wars. They have libraries that would make the Alexandrians blush. Why are they letting French Kiss of all movies languish? Does somebody else own the rights? Who? Why?
I realize this is now more a plea than an article. I’m just a boy, standing in front of the crime fiction world, asking it to help me. Help me get French Kiss onto streaming. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t the best copyright lawyer around, there’s probably an answer somebody else can find, and maybe there’s even someone out there in Hollywood reading this who could take up the mantle for me. A new generation needs to see this movie. Right now they’re out there thinking that Definitely, Maybe is the best rom-com Adam Brooks ever wrote. They’re thinking Kevin Kline is the guy from De-Lovely. They’ve never even seen Meg Ryan crawling around the floor of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes.
We need to fix this. We need to get those diamonds back. We need more screwball crime comedies. We need closure, filmed in early morning sunlight rising over a vineyard in the Haute-Loire. We need French Kiss.