Kiss and don't tell

Or thinkin' only with the little head

Ah, the '80s, when France churned out romantic sex comedies that were neither romantic nor sexy — nor funny, for that matter. It's hard to imagine who'd want to return to those cinematically tepid days of yesteryear, but Shall We Kiss takes half a stab at it, delivering a droll, hyper-chatty tale of two lovers who struggle to let the big head stop the little head from dictating their sexual needs. (Yeah, yeah, yeah: Is it so arguable that even women have a "little head.")

Emmanuel Mouret's film is a kind of Woody Allen-Eric Rohmer mash-up that tries to balance Socratic discourse and moralistic parable against the comic inevitabilities of lust. The first half is very much in sync with bottom-of-the-barrel comedy tropes while the second half sours on ethics of temptation. Though there are sharp lines of dialogue and some tender moments, Shall We Kiss is overcome by too much Parisian navel-gazing. As you might expect, there's a lot of smoking, wine-drinking and oh-so-erudite literary allusions.

Mouret does double-duty as the raffish sad sack, Nicolas, an insufferably cloying and tragically horny math teacher who asks his married best friend Judith (Virginie Ledoyen) to help him overcome his inability to get properly laid. Central to their dilemma is whether they'll kiss while doing the deed. It's that kiss, and lots and lots of never-seen sex, that results in major consequences.

But, wait, Mouret has an excuse for his stiff and contrived plot mechanics: It's a story-within-a-story (how 19th century!), a tale told by the beautiful Émilie (Julie Gayet) to Gabriel (Michaël Cohen), a stranger she casually meets and who, upon parting, asks for a "kiss of no consequence." If the framing device sounds labored, consider that Gabriel makes his living as — wait for it — a picture-framer.

For all its implied (and occasionally real) cleverness, Mouret is ultimately emulating Woody in his pretentious late-career mode, never understanding that his original appeal was vicious self-deprecation and caustic wit. Plus, Woody was funny. Mouret is sporadically amusing at best. While some critics will inevitably laud Shall We Kiss as an enchanting and poignant treatise on the complications of lust and love (or some such hooey), this French comedy will only inspire American audiences to seek out the Freedom Fries of flicks like I Love You, Man and, god forbid, Paul Blart.

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 10-11, and at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday, April 12. It also shows at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, April 17-18, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. Call 313-633-3237.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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