Gorgeous Quebec City setting not enough to lift RomCom from crowd

Fun to take in the sites in middling “French Girl”

Where: In theatres
What: Movie, 106 minutes.
When: Fri., March 15
Genre: Comedy
Rating: NNN (out of 5)
Why you should watch: A frothy and fun romantic comedy that pairs American and Canadian stars in a glowing ode to la belle province.

WE ALL KNOW that feeling when Canada gets mentioned in pop culture outside of our country, and we get a little jolt of excitement at being recognised. Among French Girl’s many pleasures is this feeling of recognition, seeing American actors traipsing around impossibly lovely scenes of Quebec City. Zach Braff and Vanessa Hudgens are the Americans here, the former plays Gordon Kinski, a hapless high school English teacher and the latter is cutthroat restauranteur, Ruby Collins. What they have in common is the luminous Sophie (Évelyne Brochu), a chef who has been living with Gordon in Brooklyn but returns to her hometown for a job interview for the new restaurant at Quebec City’s iconic Chateau Frontenac, which will be run by her ex. If this is starting to sound like a Hallmark movie, well you’re not entirely off (Netflix Christmas movie queen Vanessa Hudgens’’s presence certainly adds to this association), but French Girl is a smart and genuinely charming rom-com with great pacing and a solid ensemble cast. And writer and directors James A. Woods and Nicolas Wright come by this story honestly: both their fathers moved to Quebec out of love for a French-Canadian woman. Gordon follows Sophie to Quebec City, ready to propose, but the demands of the job and the designs her ex, Ruby, has on getting Sophie back start to chip away at the couple’s trust.

Braff is endearingly awkward as a fish out of water among the Tremblays, Sophie’s chaotically sweet family and Antoine Olivier Pilon (who played the troubled Steve in Xavier Dolan’s Mommy) is pitch perfect as Sophie’s brother, Junior, a sensitive bro who loves martial arts and longs to be a cop. The Tremblays live on a gorgeous farm and have passionate arguments while eating beautiful country meals. This vision of pastoral Quebec life is almost annoyingly perfect, down to the blue trim on the flagstone house and the unpretentious bunches of wildflowers at the table. And Sophie’s character is almost a cliche of the effortlessly beautiful, “pure laine” Quebecois girl, but Brochu’s pared-down performance avoids caricature. Although French Girl is heavy-handed at times, it’s hard to stay mad at a film that so unabashedly loves its setting and characters. And it’s not often we get a film that represents the very Canadian experience of living in both French and English (you might think of French Girl as the rom-com equivalent of 2006’s bilingual hit Bon Cop, Bad Cop). The common language on display isn’t English, or even love, but the pleasingly predictable tropes of the romantic comedy.