New Canadian rom-com with Zach Braff and Vanessa Hudgens hits all the right notes — until the end | CBC News

New Canadian rom-com with Zach Braff and Vanessa Hudgens hits all the right notes — until the end | CBC News

Where many modern romantic comedies falter is a laser-focus on the romance and a weak commitment to the comedy — French Girl, a Canadian indie out this weekend, does not have that problem.

Starring Zach Braff, Vanessa Hudgens and Québécois actress Évelyne Brochu, the rom-com is laugh-out-loud funny and never short on charm.

It was shot on-location in Quebec City and follows Gordon Kinski (played by a disarmingly charming Braff) and Sophie Tremblay (the effortlessly chic Brochu) on a trip from Brooklyn to the Canadian city to meet Sophie’s family.

It’s a bit of Ben Stiller in the box-office smash Meet the Parents (2000) meets Hugh Grant of Notting Hill (1999), where a goofy, handsome guy can’t seem to get his bearings in the world of his beautiful love interest.

The premise is simple: Gordon wants to propose to Sophie, but she gets a job offer from her ex-girlfriend Ruby (played by the stunning Vanessa Hudgens) back in Quebec City before he can seal the deal.  

That means meeting Sophie’s very Québécois family on their farm, while an increasingly unhinged Ruby tries to sabotage their relationship and win Sophie back. 

This is the first feature for director pair James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright, who also wrote the script. 

It’s a personal project: Both their fathers fell in love with their French Canadian mothers and moved to Quebec to start families. 

Despite being first-time feature directors, the film is incredibly sharp, both in its comedy and its editing. 

It hits its beats hard, and there are plenty of very funny moments.

The movie is part culture clash, part ensemble comedy, and owes a lot to Braff’s experienced hand in rom-coms. As Gordon, he conjures an early Billy Crystal in his comedic timing and a bit of the bashfulness of a mid-career Grant — high praise in the rom-com world.

Évelyne Brochu (left) plays a fantastically sweet and strong lead, oblivious to the attempts of her ex (Vanessa Hudgens, right) to woo her back. (Elevation Pictures)

Brochu, too, is well cast as the beautiful, calm and nearly perfect French Canadian girlfriend. 

The film avoids some of the rom-com trappings of making her needlessly quirky or full of adorable faults, instead portraying her as a talented and ambitious chef who is a reasonably good communicator with her partner and loves her family.

Together, the pair have excellent chemistry — the linchpin of this genre. One only needs to look to Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson’s monstrosity Marry Me (2002) to see two adept rom-com stars who cannot sell their relationship because they don’t have that certain electricity together.

In French Girl, Gordon and Sophie feel like a couple who genuinely care for each other, who see each other’s obvious appeal and are on stable ground at the film’s outset. While much of the movie spends time keeping its leads apart, they’re so recognizably great together, it’s exciting whenever they’re in the same room. 

Braff’s quick wit and self-deprecating asides work well with Brochu’s grounded portrayal of a woman who values dating a goofy and loving man — but not at any cost.

The supporting cast is pitch-perfect, as well. Those with French Canadian or Québécois family members will recognize the loud table conversations that might stress out a guest or two — and the seamless switching between English and French all night.

The film benefits from this language-switching, making it feel more authentic than other fish-out-of-water stories. 

Brochu told CBC News it was nice to finally be able to speak freely with her French accent, not trying to change it for anglophone audiences.

Quebec City shines as romantic movie venue 

The other main character here is undeniably Quebec City itself. 

It’s increasingly rare for rom-coms to be shot on location compared to the genre’s heyday in the early aughts. But doing so makes a big difference.

The film has no shortage of aerial shots of the city’s historic streets and rolling countryside, as well as gorgeous restaurant interiors — part of what what makes the city look so good is the fantastic cinematography. It even puts the protagonists on the beautiful Terrasse Dufferin boardwalk.

It makes for a real, lived-in movie — with a gloss of romance.

And watching Braff and Tremblay walk through Quebec City’s busy cobblestone streets is a nice nod to an era of more thoughtful romantic comedies, such as the Before Sunset trilogy. 

There’s an undeniable beauty to the film, and its editing is as sharp as it needs to be for the jokes to land and for some of the broader comedy to work. 

Zach Braff and Vanessa Hudgens are seen in front of a fireplace on the set of the movie French Girl. Braff looks concerned while Hudgens looks sly.
Braff and Hudgens are romantic rivals in French Girl, competing for the love of Sophie, a Québécois woman played by Brochu. (Elevation Pictures)

Rom-com villains: a tough balance

While there is a lot to like about this film, it does falter as it meanders to its conclusion. 

Though the leads and Sophie’s extended family were well-rounded and fleshed out, the film doesn’t do quite as good a job with the villainous ex trying to win Sophie back.

Hudgens says she looked to Owen Wilson’s effective performance as the low-key villain in Meet the Parents when playing Ruby. Wilson portrayed a guy who couldn’t help how great he was, and just really wanted to get back together with his ex. 

Unfortunately, her role didn’t give her as much room to play, and is more reminiscent of Bradley Cooper as the jerk boyfriend in Wedding Crashers (2005) — much less likable, though fun enough to push the film forward.

We don’t get enough of Ruby’s backstory (besides her great professional successes) or moments of tenderness with Sophie to see her as a compelling threat to a very solid main relationship. 

As the film winds down, audiences are left asking: Why would Sophie ever fall for a woman who cheated on her, yells at her for being late and treats her entirely as an employee, rather than the one that got away?

The movie doesn’t answer that question, and that sucks some of the tension out of the final act.

That being said, absolutely no one wants Hudgens’s sights set on their girlfriend, and there is a believability to the character’s success and power. That comes with having someone as beautiful and self-possessed as Hudgens cast in the role.

And whether the last 10 minutes or so work depends on how much comedy viewers enjoy.

Ultimately, the movie does much to win over audiences in the first two-thirds and almost demands a sequel.

Audiences will be left wanting to spend more time in Quebec City with Gordon, Sophie and the entire Tremblay family, much like other highly successful and similar rom-coms that came before it, including The Family Stone (2005) and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

French Girl lands in Canadian theatres on March 15.

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