In fact, her performance in this production revealed a hitherto unsuspected wellspring of talent that would subsequently be displayed in the likes of When a Man Loves a Woman , Courage Under Fire , and Hurlyburly. Today, Ryan is so well recognized for her participation in romantic comedies that it's easy to forget she's capable of much more, and it was in Prelude to a Kiss where she first evidenced this.
Ryan's leading man on this occasion is neither Billy Crystal nor Tom Hanks, but Alec Baldwin - the most accomplished of the Baldwin brothers. Playing a sort of nerdish yuppie, he is very much equal to the task facing him: furnish our entry point into a story that is both deceptively complex and surprisingly simple.
Prelude to a Kiss opens with one of the most delightfully romantic half-hours of any recent motion picture. Not only is the aura intoxicating, but it gives us an almost-immediate investment into the main characters and their relationship. Bartender Rita Boyle Ryan and publishing executive Peter Hoskins Baldwin are attracted to each other from the moment they first meet at a party.
Their romance progresses quickly, from dancing in a crowded room to a coy exploration of each other's feelings to unihibited sex, all punctuated by smartly written dialogue credit Craig Lucas' script, adapted from his Broadway play. Soon they're living together, having deep discussions about the biological necessity for sex and the bleakness of the future in a world that seems perpetually on the brink of self-destruction.
It turns out that Rita, the free spirit, is afraid of life, and sees everything as ending in a nuclear holocaust. Eventually, despite their differences on key issues he wants children; she doesn't , Peter asks Rita to marry him, and she accepts. Meanwhile, we are briefly introduced to Julius Sydney Walker , an old man who spends most of his time vegitating in his bedroom. He has been like that since the death of his wife, and, with his health failing, he knows his days are numbered.
One morning, he dresses up in his best clothing and walks to the train station. There, he buys a ticket to Lake Forest. The next time we see him, he is wandering into Peter and Rita's wedding, an uninvited but apparently unthreatening interloper.
After the ceremony, Julius approaches Rita and asks to kiss her as a means of congratulations. She agrees, and, when their lips meet, a transference takes place. Suddenly, Rita finds herself in the old man's body while his essence inhabits her form.
When Peter and Rita head off on their Jamaican honeymoon, she is literally not the girl he fell in love with. Things she wouldn't ordinarily say. Eventually Baldwin realizes that someone else is inside her. She is not the woman he married.
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All of this will be familiar to people who have seen the play by Craig Lucas , who based this screenplay on it. It's a gimmick, all right, but an interesting one, because it's the setup for some unusually thoughtful movie dialogue, and a final scene of genuine emotional power. I won't reveal the scene. Of the dialogue, I'll say how unusual it is for Hollywood characters to talk longingly and thoughtfully about our search for happiness in this world where most assuredly we will die. Baldwin finds all the right notes in his performance, from Yuppie barfly to guy in love to a man faced with a large metaphysical embarrassment on his honeymoon.
Prelude to a Kiss
Meg Ryan is subtle in the way she signals that perhaps she is occupied by another personality. There are small but splendid moments involving her parents Ned Beatty and Patty Duke.
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But the emotional heart of the movie belongs to the old guy, Walker, a New York stage actor who got his first starring role at He is wonderful here. He begins as a block of human wood, an old man who looks as if he has not one single thing to say, and then he develops eloquently into a person of poetry and longing. He is, in many of his scenes, literally playing a woman in her 20s.
The writer of these words, Craig Lucas, knows just how right they are. As an infant, he was abandoned by his birth parents and adopted by the couple that discovered him. Prelude is littered with laments about bringing children into this precarious world and being totally alone; however, the film is not cynical, or ironic.
Occasionally it assumes those postures of modern sophistication, but only as permission slips for Lucas to go on a field trip of faith — to condemn the injustice of the universe before he trusts it again. And, as Billy Joel wrote, love is a matter of trust. The kiss has cosmic proportions — the sun eclipses, a wind passes through — and the old man and Rita exchange bodies. This is a common conceit in movies, usually exploited for comedic effect, such as in Freaky Friday and Trading Places.
With Prelude , it is the impetus for a spellbinding contemplation of identity, belief and love. Coping with a hyperbolic post-honeymoon syndrome, in which Rita is quite literally a different person, definitely not the one with whom Peter fell in love, he wanders out of their apartment and into the bar where Rita used to work.
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