I’ve made little secret of the fact that I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies in general, but it’s always good to stretch one’s horizons. In the case of Peter Weir’s Green Card, the reason I decided to check it out was simple and — I thought — reasonably solid. It was the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy for 1990. Beating out every other comedy of the year ought to be a reasonable guarantor of quality.
But it turned out to be about as pedestrian as a movie entitled Green Card would otherwise be expected to be.
Andie MacDowell stars as Brontë, a horticulturalist whose parents named all their children after famous authors but apparently couldn’t tell the difference between a given name and a surname. Gérard Depardieu is Georges, a Frenchman looking to establish permanent residence in the U.S. A mutual acquaintance brings them together for an arranged marriage. Georges gets his green card, and what does Brontë get? Access to a condominium apartment which has a greenhouse she can restore and make use of, but which also has a policy against unmarried residents. Initially she claims her husband is away on safari; it’s unclear what her plans are for when that story ran its course, but presumably she thinks that once she’s established it won’t matter if her husband never shows.
Of course, he does. You know that. A few months after they meet, marry, and go their separate ways, INS agents come sniffing around, investigating the very sort of fraudulent green card marriages that Brontë and Georges have. In order to prevent Georges from being deported and Brontë possibly facing jail time, the two have to pass themselves off as an actual loving newlywed couple. So they can convincingly demonstrate that they know each other well, they have to spend a few days together in Brontë’s apartment to study up. And you can guess the rest.
What works in the film are its lead actors; both are charming in their roles, though neither is exactly stretching themselves. Brontë is the sort of hippie-ish naive go-getter that Andie MacDowell plays regularly; if she were a television executive instead of a horticulturalist, there’d be little to distinguish her role in Green Card from her role in Groundhog Day. Georges is eccentric, sometimes brooding and sometimes goofy. He’s a bit of a slob and is very forthright with his opinions, calling Brontë’s mueslix “birdseed” and wondering out loud why anybody would choose not to eat meat. There’s some mild humor to be found in their conflicts, and in the inevitable introduction of Georges to Brontë’s circle of friends, whom she would rather not know she has a “husband”.
What doesn’t work is a couple of things, one relatively minor, and one significant. The minor aspect is a plot hole. The story that Brontë and Georges spin involves them meeting in Africa, and Georges going back there for a time to study the music there (to explain his absence in Brontë’s apartment). It would possibly work all right on the condo’s board, but it doesn’t make much sense when they’re trying it on INS agents. I admit I haven’t had much call to deal with INS personally, but I’m pretty sure that checking on somebody’s comings and goings in and out of the country is something that they would do. Brontë and Georges shouldn’t even have the chance to demonstrate their knowledge of each other once the INS agents verify that Georges has not, in fact, been in Africa — but this isn’t how the film plays out. It’s a minor detail in light of how the film does eventually play out, but it’s something that bothered me a little.
But the major issue I had with the film was its predictability. Aside from a small twist at the end, the premise plays out pretty much exactly the way any genre savvy viewer is going to expect. It’s cliched and a bit trite… and there’s just enough of a hint that it didn’t need to be. More than once during the film, it’s suggested that Georges isn’t exactly who he claims to be, and that there’s a much darker side to him than he puts on. But this plot thread goes absolutely nowhere in favor of the standard rom-com ending. Not that I was expecting a dramatic thriller or anything, but a different flavor on the film would have been appreciated.