Program Notes: Green Card (1990)

Australian director Peter Weir is recognized for many things.

Comedy is not among them.

Back in the '70s he wowed us with head-twisting cinematic conundrums like Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave.

Since coming to Hollywood in the early '80s Weir has exhibited a chameleonic ability to adapt to all sorts of material and milieus:

The Golden Door film series complements the exhibit Emma Lazarus: Voice of Liberty, Voice of Conscience, now on display at the Central Library.

Film Screening:
Green Card (1990)
Monday, Sept. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

Related Event:
Esther Schor: Emma Lazarus
Thursday, Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

These are heavy-duty dramas marked by excellent acting and a palpable sense of time and place.

But funny? No, nobody really thinks of Peter Weir as funny.

Even The Truman Show, in which rubberfaced Jim Carrey plays a clueless innocent who has grown up unaware that he's the lifelong subject of a TV show, was less an exercise in hilarity than a dead-serious parable about an individual struggling to assert his independence against a God-like creator.

1990's Green Card, in fact, is Weir's only true comedy in a career that spans more than 40 years. But it's a highly satisfying one.

And since it's a Peter Weir movie, it's about much more than just laughs.

Green Card is very much a product of the late '80s, a time when illegal immigration could elicit amusement rather than xenophobic rants.

It's about a New Yorker (Andie MacDowell) who weds a foreigner — a total stranger — so that she can move into a highly-prized condo reserved for married couples.

As his end of the bargain, her new hubby (French film icon Gerard Depardieu) gets an INS green card allowing him to remain in the U.S.

It's a true marriage of convenience. Once wed, they go their separate ways.

That is, until the immigration folk start poking around. At this point the pair have to move in together and work overtime to present themselves as a happily married couple.

If Weir's Oscar-nominated screenplay is in many aspects a classic romantic comedy, it also offers a nifty riff on Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.

The running joke is that MacDowell's character Bronte, a horticulturalist, is also a controlling neat freak, while Depardieu's Georges is a big slob. They're water and oil.

Rom-com rules dictate, of course, that these two wildly dissimilar individuals will fall in love, leading to a happy ending.

Weir delivers on half that equation. No point in ruining things by going into details...let's just say that sometimes love doesn't conquer all.

It's safe to say you'd never get Green Card made in 2011. We're inclined today to think of illegal immigration as a cause for hand-wringing and/or protest rather than laughter. Hard to imagine a studio putting up money for a film guaranteed to stir up controversy.

But in 1990 the fates conspired to make Green Card one of the year's high-profile releases.

There were its stars, for instance.

Depardieu had been a favorite of art house audiences for more than a decade thanks to his French releases.

But Green Card came out the same year as his monumental Oscar-nominated performance in Cyrano de Bergerac. Green Card was the Gallic star's first English-language film, and it served as Depardieu's introduction to Hollywood and America's middle-class movie goers.

MacDowell came to the film straight from the smash independent hit Sex, Lies & Videotape. Before that her only major credit was as in 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. She played star Christopher Lambert's love interest...with all her lines dubbed by an English actress (at the time MacDowell had not yet shed the drawl of her native South Carolina).

Roger Ebert nicely nailed the film's attraction when he wrote: “A movie like Green Card can supply two kinds of pleasures: those caused when it observes its formula, and those created when it violates it.”

Let's hear it for violation.

See Bob's general introduction to The Golden Door film series.

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.

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