Director – Norman Rene, Screenplay/Based on a Play by Craig Lucas, Producers – Michael Gruskoff & Michael I. Levy, Photography – Stefan Czapsky, Music – Howard Shore, Visual Effects – Balsmeyer & Everett Inc (Supervisor – Randall Balsmeyer), Special Effects – Sam Barkan & Guy Clayton, Production Design – Andrew Jackness. Production Company – Gruskoff-Levy Co
Alec Baldwin (Peter Hoskins), Meg Ryan (Rita Boyle), Sydney Walker (Julius Becker), Ned Beatty (Dr Marshall Boyle), Stanley Tucci (Taylor McGowan), Patty Duke (Marianne Boyle), Kathy Bates (Leah Blier)
Editor Peter Hoskins and barmaid Rita Boyle meet at a party, fall in love and marry. At the wedding, an old man comes in off the street and asks Rita for a kiss before collapsing. After they depart on their honeymoon, Peter finds Rita strangely changed – she has markedly different opinions and cannot remember certain details anymore. He increasingly comes to believe that she is not herself. At Rita’s bar, he meets the old man and discovers that it is Rita inside the old man body’s and that she has been there since the kiss at the wedding. Together they find that the old man, Julius Becker, is suffering from cirrhosis and lung cancer and has only one year to live. Together they try to find a way to bring her and the old man back together to exchange bodies again. However, the old man refuses to give up Rita’s body.
Sometimes hiding out there on the video shelves and among the direct-to-cable releases can be some genuinely unexpected surprises. As more often as not, these are films that have been justly ignored, but sometimes one can find beautiful little gems like Prelude to a Kiss, which was completely ignored upon its cinematic release.
Prelude to a Kiss is a bodyswap fantasy, although one that is far removed from light comedies like Like Father, Like Son (1987) and Vice Versa (1988). The film is taken from a 1990 stage play and is beautifully written. Much time is spent on credibly developing the romance and Craig Lucas’s dialogue here is often sad and haunting.
The cast chosen may not quite be the right ones for the roles. Alec Baldwin always seems to seethe with a cold sexual dangerousness and he is not necessarily the most inviting person for a romantic lead like this. On the other hand, Meg Ryan has made a career out of playing flighty single women in romantic films and seems perfect for the role. While she is fine as herself, unfortunately either playing the part of the old man was beyond her or she never rehearsed with Sydney Walker and never seems to suggest that she is the same person as the old man we initially meet.
The best performance in the film comes from Sydney Walker as the old man. He suggests both frightened youth trapped inside the aging body and genteel, sad wisdom. The climax of the film where he explains his actions and delivers a sad lament for the beauty of womanhood contains some impressive writing. The scene does let the old man off the hook and grants a great deal of sympathy to him in a way that is perhaps not 100% convincing – he is after all somebody who has been prepared to lie and deceive to keep Meg Ryan’s body.
The film also leaves many questions seemingly hanging up at the end – one keeps wondering what a conservative old man’s reaction would be to being in a woman’s body but he seems happy to make love to Alec Baldwin and is ready to have his baby without any issues of gender confusion being raised. The film is at least daring enough to go out on a limb and have the two lovers kiss while both are in male bodies – contrast this to the glossily commercial Ghost (1990), which copped out on having two lovers kiss while both were inhabiting women’s bodies.