Green Card (1991)
Written & Directed by Peter Weir
“Romantic comedy” is not a film genre necessarily associated with Peter Weir. He certainly has romance in his pictures (see The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness), but this particular style of movie just isn’t what you would expect from him. This is one of the few films that Weir both wrote and directed on his own, and it appears to have been inspired by French actor Gerard Depardieu. Weir wanted to bring Depardieu to an English-speaking audience after the actor was already renowned in popular French cinema. The leading male role in Green Card was explicitly written for the performer, but it didn’t propel him to immense fame in the States. It would be received with a mixed reception by the critics, seen mainly as light fare.
Bronte (Andie MacDowell) is a horticulturalist eager to get an apartment in a prestigious building in New York City. The unit in question has a lush greenhouse garden that has fallen into disrepair. Bronte can achieve this by helping out Georges (Depardieu), a Frenchman who needs a green card to stay in America. Bronte marries him at city hall and the two-part ways until Immigration comes a-calling and wants to interview them. It’s clear to the agents these two are faking a marriage, but they need more proof, so interviews are scheduled to talk to them separately. Knowing that both of them could lose their opportunities and even spend time in prison, they shack up for the weekend. The goal is to quiz each other enough that they can naturally answer the questions from the agents.
The dynamic between Depardieu & MacDowell is pretty typical. It’s the romantic Odd Couple concept played out basically how you would expect. She likes things a certain way and in order. He’s a passionate Frenchman who wants to savor life. She grew up privileged while he struggled as a child and into adulthood. Despite everything pointing to otherwise, they are going to end up together. The movie pulls it off decently; this is a cut above most romantic comedies. The problem arises from the lack of chemistry between our leads. It’s not dead in the water like some really awful movies have been, but I never felt a spark between the characters, not enough to make me feel like the ending was earned.
What is nice about Green Card is that it doesn’t become overly schmaltzy or saccharin. There’s no reliance on boring tropes like a female slapstick or other narrative potholes these movies often end up in. Instead, Weir continues to employ many sensibilities found in his other films. MacDowell doesn’t play things how you might expect, and it makes her all the more interesting to watch. She’s not the cliche uptight female lead, but she is undoubtedly particular about things. Depardieu is physically not what you would expect in this role. He’s a heavy-set guy with a prominent belly. He’s a bit cagey through the first half of the movie, and then we see him become overconfident and show a bit of bravado. Nothing is ever played too broadly, though, which keeps the picture feeling fresher than most.
There is still a light air to the picture despite all those positives, a little too much for my tastes. The conflict with the Immigration agents never feels quite as dire as it should. Bronte is already in a relationship with another man, which never commands the attention it probably should in the overall story. It’s an obstacle that’s relatively too easily overcome. I’m assuming this was done as a sort of escape for Weir from the heavier types of movies he’d become associated with at this point. From all the way back to Picnic at Hanging Rock to Dead Poets Society, his characters were often in grave peril, whether physical, spiritual, or existential. Here the stakes are slightly high, but it’s clear no one is going to suffer in any profound manner.
I can easily see how this might be someone’s comfort movie. It’s gentle and sweet but not cloying. If I was forced to watch a romantic comedy, I’d consider this one over many, many others. Green Card also serves as a reminder of how good Andie MacDowell is. She was always an actress who possessed a charming strangeness to her performances. Her dark curly hair, slight Southern accent, and curious demeanor always set her apart from other popular actresses of the period. Green Card is also riding high on the popularity of Pretty Woman, a big hit from the previous year. However, this movie offers a bit more than that one and is definitely more free of cliches. Green Card exists as this odd caveat in Peter Weir’s career. With his next film, Weir would pull a 180 and give the audience one of his spiritually heaviest films to date.