‘French Girl’ Review: Zach Braff and Vanessa Hudgens Navigate a Bumpy Love Triangle Rom-Com

Writer-directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright capture the essence of their Canadian setting but lean too heavily on genre tropes, sacrificing originality for audience appeal.

french girl

“French Girl” Review: Romance Proves More Complex Than City-Wide Destruction in This Rom-Com from the Writers of “Independence Day: Resurgence”

In “French Girl,” written and directed by “Independence Day: Resurgence” scribes James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright, exploring the intricacies of romance proves to be a challenging endeavor. The film swiftly establishes a playful and affectionate dynamic between long-term couple Gordon (Zach Braff) and Sophie (Evelyne Brochu). However, their relationship faces turmoil when Gordon’s former flame, Ruby (Vanessa Hudgens), resurfaces, leaving Gordon feeling miserable as he questions Sophie’s loyalty.

At 48 years old, Braff remains a likable presence on screen, but “French Girl” serves as a cautionary tale about the limitations of portraying hapless, boyish charm as one ages. While Braff’s performance is enjoyable, it underscores the reality that playing the youthful romantic lead may have an expiration date.

In the opening scenes of “French Girl,” Gordon, a middle-school English teacher, tries his hand at cooking breakfast for his partner. Unfortunately, his culinary efforts end in disaster, highlighting his ineptitude in the kitchen. This failure can partly be attributed to Gordon’s intimidation, considering Sophie’s prowess as a skilled chef. In fact, Sophie’s culinary talents are so remarkable that she is scouted to leave New York and assume the role of executive chef at a luxury hotel in Quebec City.

Evelyne Brochu portrays Sophie with an appealing and authentic intelligence that challenges the stereotype suggested by the film’s title. Vanessa Hudgens takes on the role of Ruby, Sophie’s old friend who has since become a celebrity restaurateur. Quebec City serves as the backdrop for the former couple’s past and the hometown of Sophie’s family, adding depth to the narrative.

As Sophie accepts the job offer, Gordon is taken aback upon learning about her romantic history with Ruby, a fact that comes as a surprise to him. Sophie’s decision to keep this information from Gordon leaves him feeling unsettled, wondering if she still harbors feelings for her ex. Sophie’s explanation that she withheld the truth because she anticipated Gordon’s reaction reflects his anxieties about their relationship.

Adding to Gordon’s discomfort, Sophie’s family remains fond of Ruby despite their breakup, further exacerbating his insecurities. Gordon’s efforts to impress Sophie’s father, Alphonse (Luc Picard), mother, Ginette (Isabelle Vincent), and siblings, Juliette (Charlotte Aubin) and Junior (Antoine Olivier Pilon), only seem to highlight his feelings of inadequacy. Among them, Gordon finds some solace in Sophie’s grandmother, Mammie (Muriel Dutil), who is showing signs of dementia and may be his most receptive audience.

Braff throws himself into the absurd physical comedy, from ingesting a pill offered by his father (William Fichtner) during a flight to Quebec, to fleeing from a cantankerous swan, to attempting to retrieve an heirloom ring from Mammie’s possession. Meanwhile, Hudgens is weighed down by the rom-com’s exaggerated rivalry subplot. Ruby exudes arrogant confidence in her profession, contrasting sharply with Gordon’s relentless insecurity. However, compared to more nuanced culinary works like “The Bear,” “The Taste of Things,” or even “The Menu,” Ruby’s pretentiousness feels overdone.

Fortunately, Sophie’s family and the Quebec setting provide a much-needed anchor to the film. Serving both a narrative purpose—to be won over by Gordon—and bringing genuine warmth to shared meals, arguments, and heartfelt conversations. Picard shines as Sophie’s skeptical yet caring father, making it easy to sympathize with him as he navigates financial pressures as a small farm owner. The tension between father and son, exacerbated by Junior’s desire to become a police officer rather than joining the family business, adds depth to their dynamic.

In the early moments of “French Girl,” there are fleeting glimpses of a potentially more endearing direction for the film. Much of this promise stems from Brochu’s portrayal of Sophie, which strikes a balance between culinary ambition, unwavering loyalty (until Gordon’s missteps), and genuine affection for her family. During a brief romantic interlude, Sophie finds solace with the women in her family as they gather to cook in the farmhouse kitchen, free from the burdensome presence of Gordon or the domineering Ruby. Instead, the focus shifts to the Canadians themselves, and their authentic, prickly affection becomes palpable.

However, this familial respite is short-lived. The demands of the rom-com genre inevitably resurface, with Gordon growing increasingly desperate and Ruby more manipulative. In the end, neither character appears entirely deserving of Sophie, but perhaps the lesson here is that there was never truly a competition to begin with. While some rom-coms excel in their inventiveness or ability to satisfy, “French Girl” falls into the category of clumsy, formulaic entries.

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