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BEFORE 'HOWARD THE DUCK' THERE WERE 'FRENCH POSTCARDS'

year: 1979 cast: Miles Chapin, Blanche Baker, Debra Winger rating: **1/2
Before the husband/wife filmmaking team of Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz hit a wall with the disastrous HOWARD THE DUCK, they had a pretty nice career going.

Co-writers of George Lucas’s classic AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Huyck and Katz scripted THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and here’s proof they could turn out a semi-decent little flick on their own between collaborative successes.

FRENCH POSTCARDS centers on a group of American students in Paris, taking part in a yearlong study program… Beginning with a postcard-writing narration by Blanche Baker’s Laura to her American boyfriend as she wanders the city, the story quickly hands off to two male roommates.

David Marshall Grant, Debra Winger, Blanche Baker
Miles Chapin as Joel is the vulnerable underdog, holed up and watching STAR TREK reruns instead of venturing into the city Ernest Hemingway called “a movable feast.” So if Joel's in Paris, why's he not moving?

That’s the opinion of the more adventurous Alex (David Marshall Grant), a wannabe musician who quickly falls for the school’s head mistress played by the gorgeous and married Marie-France Pisier, resulting in a very predictable turnout; especially after finding out her husband, who also runs the school, is cheating on her. Their tryst is that of a male fantasy, and not a completely satisfying one. And another French beauty, albeit more mousy-cute than exotic, is Valérie Quennessen as Toni who, uptight at first, eventually hooks up with Joel. Their relationship is sweet and old fashion but has a kink when he finds out he’s not the first student she’s slept with. Or the second, or third...

 Valérie Quennessen was killed in an auto accident in 1989...
Despite being an ensemble, the film drags too long on one particular story instead of evenly balancing each.

Debra Winger, who's promiscuous Melanie had potential, is hardly around at all.

Which doesn't really matter since most of the time's spent on Joel and Alex's superficial romances.

While otherwise capable actors Miles Chapin (THE FUNHOUSE) and David Marshall Grant (AMERICAN FLYERS) are down to earth and likable, they're a bit too grounded to be completely interesting and/or dynamic: at least for something this character-driven.

And Marie-France Pisier drowned in 2011
At one point, after both are sulking and lovelorn inside a dark cafe, Joel says: “I traveled 4,000 miles to get dumped on.” And it’s true. Instead of enjoying Paris we’re watching two losers who might as well be moping inside their stateside bedrooms. But soon enough we see Paris again, even the French countryside… 

An hour in, when Laura's character reemerges, she’s more of a shallow jerk than before, as if we're meeting her for the very first time. She has a strange road trip “date” with a goofy Iranian wine taster (Mandy Patinkin) resulting in a bizarre accident in a spooky rural town with a horror movie score and undertone: perhaps the director was returning to his MESSIAH OF EVIL roots. Thankfully, Laura winds up with a relatively nice guy she really deserves, and vice versa. This is perhaps the best payoff in a film that, despite the beautiful location and potentially interesting characters, ultimately becomes as beautifully flat as a – you got it – French postcard.
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