Emilie (Julie Gayet) is traveling on business and has stopped in a small countryside village for an appointment. She runs into Gabriel (Michael Cohen) who offers to give her a ride back to her hotel. There is an attraction between the two and Gabriel invites her to dinner. She insists she wants an early night because she has to return to Paris the next morning, but acquiesces. The attraction grows throughout the meal and Gabriel asks if he may kiss her goodnight before she leaves his car and returns to the hotel. "It won't mean anything" he insists. But she knows better and begins to tell him the story of Judith (Virginie Ledoyen), a young woman who is married to a pharmacist, Claudio (Stefano Accorsi). They are very happy and Judith has a full life including her best friend, Nicolas (Emmanuel Mouret). Judith and Nicolas share everything and spend many hours talking so Judith immediately recognizes when something is wrong with her friend. The love of his life has left him and he feels emotionally shut off. He tries a number of things, but can't seem to shake it and becomes depressed. He feels a kiss is the key to any romance and he hasn't found that yet. He thinks that if he has sex with someone, it might break the spell, but he stumbles there as well. Judith offers to help and they fall in love. But she can't just leave Claudio, she loves him too much. They come up with a plan to arrange a meeting between Claudio and Penelope, a friend of Nicolas who is a flight attendant.
Written and directed by Emmanuel Mouret, who also stars, "Shall We Kiss?" reminded me of a French version of an OK Woody Allen film. It works. But just.
I was actually more interested in Emilie and Gabriel. They run into each other on the street in a small village in the French Countryside. After they exchange pleasantries, Gabriel realizes he is attracted to the young woman and wants to spend some time with her. He desperately tries to figure out something and decides to ask her to dinner. She agrees, but really wants to reture early, as she has to return to Paris the next morning. After dinner, they sit outside of her hotel and talk some more. He asks her if they can kiss. It won't mean anything, he simply has a desire to do this. But she doubts the kiss will not mean anything and has a story to illustrate her point. Then she begins to tell the story of Judith, Nicolas and Claudio. Throughout the film, we cut back to the two strangers sitting in the hotel lounge with drinks as Emilie continues her story.
Emilie and Gabriel were more interesting because I believed in them more. They seem like actual strangers who might meet on the street, who might start a conversation, share dinner and drinks, who might spend the evening talking, trying to find out as much as possible about one another.
But Mouret has other ideas and quickly brings us to the story of Judith and Nicolas. Maybe he isn't as interested in the story of Emilie and Gabriel because he uses their story as a framing device to get to tale of Judith and Nicolas. He also plays Nicolas, so that is convenient.
Judith and Nicolas are great friends and meet regularly to share and talk about everything in their lives. When Nicolas' relationship with the love of his life ends (she breaks it off) Judith is heartbroken to see her friend so distraught. Because they share everything, the conversation naturally turns to Nicolas' break up and his inability to cope. He shares the details of a meeting with a prostitute, something he tries in an effort to get past the lack of emotion in his life. But she wouldn't kiss him and he couldn't go through with it. As they talk about the situation, you may be reminded of many of Woody Allen's films, especially some of the lesser works, when the characters stand around and talk and talk and talk, trying to sound intellectual and important. In "Shall We Kiss?", these conversations don't come off that bad, but they do begin to try the patience. These moments are presented in a fast, breezy manner, allowing the story to keep moving. This is both good and bad. Because the story is moving along, we have to work harder to connect to the characters and these same people seem to be performing "Best Of…" moments, at times. But because the story keeps moving, it seems breezy and this helps to make these scenes more tolerable.
Emmanuel Mouret's Nicolas seems a bit like many of Woody Allen's characters. He is better looking, but he spends a lot of time discussing things with Judith and, at times, he seems a little neurotic, like he constantly needs her approval.
Virginie Ledoyen is perfectly good as Judith. She brings an intense seriousness to the character that helps us believe in her. When she states that she can't fall in love with Nicolas until she finds a new partner for her husband, Claudio, we know she means it and we get why she is so invested in this.
At times, it seems as though Mouret is going for a more farcical tone, but this doesn't exactly work. When Judith and Nicolas figure out who they will try to fix Claudio up with (without his knowledge of course), they walk through the plan, step by step, as we watch what they are thinking. Then, we watch the actual plan and there almost seems to be the sense of things spiraling out of control. But because all of the characters are so serious, and so in control all of the time, nothing will ever be allowed to spin out of control.
"Shall We Kiss?" is a good, light hearted romantic drama. Catch a bargain matinee at your local arthouse.