‘French Girl’ is a Charming, Predictable Quebec Romcom

Film still from the movie 'French Girl'

What’s in a name? Actor Zach Braff might ask this in the role he played as the Shakespeare-loving middle school English teacher, Gordon, in this a romcom called French Girl. Despite its name, French Girl is actually about a Québécois, Gordon’s gorgeous chef girlfriend, Sophie, played by Évelyne Brochu. (Though she is so stereotypically French in looks, charm, and style that she would be right at home on a Rouje ad.) Largely set in Quebec City, this lighthearted film follows Gordon’s attempts to win over Sophie’s Francophone family when she leaves New York to return to her hometown for an unbelievable job offer.

In classic romcom style, this Gordon’s efforts don’t go over as well as expected. All of Braff’s neurotic charm is funneled into a clumsy, anxious Gordon, who manages to screw things up at every turn. His foil is Ruby (Vanessa Hudgens), a successful smokeshow of a TV personality and restaurateur, who wants Sophie to come be the new chef at her swanky new restaurant in Quebec City. She is also, Gordon discovers, Sophie’s ex.

Not Quite a Queer Romcom

It’s a well-worn trope that most romantic relationships between women in film tend towards sad period dramas. But Sophie and Ruby’s romantic past is a far cry from Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Sophie’s family thinks the two women are perfect for each other, and her father actively encourages her to dump Gordon for Ruby.

Both women are open about their sexuality, though it’s worth noting that neither explicitly defines it. At one point, Gordon writes off Sophie’s Sapphic past as a result of her more fluid, experimental French upbringing. (Really playing up some French stereotypes here—despite, again, the fact that this girl is Canadian, not some 11th arrondissement bohemian.) Sophie is never described as bi-sexual, and Ruby is never outed as bi, a lesbian, or anything else.

Still, there is definite sexual chemistry, and Gordon is quickly driven wild with jealousy. The rest of the movie unfurls in a series of tried and true romantic comedy tropes, cumulating in Zach Braff running madly through the streets of Quebec City in a Shakespeare costume as part of a last-ditch-and-very-grand romantic gesture.

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about French Girl, but it has enough charm to make for a cozy weeknight watch. Braff plays the same quirky goofball he always does, Brochu is lovely, if underdeveloped, and I enjoyed Hudgens as a campy femme fatale.

Quebec French in ‘French Girl’

This would also be a great movie for anyone looking to practice their French. Despite two out of three of the stars being American, the rest of the cast is nearly all Québécois. To work around the fact that Braff clearly doesn’t speak French, it is explained that his character understands French, but can’t speak it. So, with that in place, much of the film has everyone speaking to him in French, and him responding in English. (Wes Anderson did the same with Timothée Chalamet in The French Dispatch, admittedly a stranger move, as Chalamet is a native French speaker.)

While the Québécois accent can certainly be intimidating to those who have studied Metropolitan French, the accents in this film are pretty mild, closer to Montreal than Quebec City. (With the exception of Sophie’s brother, Junior, who has a notably more provincial accent than the rest of the family.) Comprehension-wise, it was a far cry from another silver screen foray in the wilds of Quebec City I recently watched, the bizarre 70s-themed show, Happily Married, whose thickly-accented actors required full subtitles for me to understand. So, if you’re looking to brush up on your French without getting lost in the plot, there’s no reason not to give French Girl a shot… just maybe wait until it’s streaming.

French Girl is in theaters in the U.S. as of March 15, 2024.

Catherine Rickman is a writer, professional Francophile, and host of the Expat Horror Stories podcast. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman, or on TikTok @catinthekitchen.

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