So since I first saw this as a child it has been one of my favourite films. I’m not quite sure how it ended up in my collection. No doubt my mum bought it for me and I’m glad she did because even now nearly 30 years later it still resonates with me.
Okay so let’s kick off with an info dump about the movie. It’s a 1992 romantic comedy based on a screenplay by Jonnie Lindsell and R. Ross Meszaros. It was directed by Robert Marcarelli and produced by Mitchel Matovich. I Don’t Buy Kisses Anymore stars Jason Alexander as Bernie Fishbine and Nia Peeples as Theresa Garabaldi the two leads. Rounding off the cast are Lainie Kazan as Sarah Fishbine, Lou Jacobi as Irving Fein, Eileen Brennan as Freida, David Bowe as Norman Fishbine, Michele Scarabelli as Connie Klinger and Hilary Shepard as Ada Fishbine.
Okay, so being a child of the 90s I just missed out on the cultural phenomenon that was Seinfeld but I’m familiar with Jason Alexander’s character on the show George Costanza. To an extent you can see traces of that character in Bernie, certainly in his low confidence and envy of the success of others. That being said, I think Bernie is a fundamentally likeable character. He is loved by the patrons of his shoe store where he works, having grown up there watching his father do the same job. The owner of the local candy store also clearly adores him. He’s charming and personable in an everyman story and throughout the movie you genuinely fall in love with him. You want him to be successful and it hurts when he hurts. I can understand why people might think this movie is forgettable but at the same time I defy you to watch this and not be touched by it and a large part of that is because of Alexander’s portrayal of Bernie.
Nia Peeples is an actress I wasn’t too familiar with when I first watched this movie, since then I’ve seen her play Nicole Chapman on the TV series Fame (based on the movie of the same name) and Pam Fields on the drama Pretty Little Liars. She is perfect in this role, she has a pleasant nature that comes across well and makes her a believable love interest for Bernie. Her entire performance was solid, and despite hurting Bernie, as she initially only returned his interest so she could use him and his weight issues as a case study for her graduate thesis you could tell how much it hurt her and which made the finale where they get back together more realistic.
One of my favourite aspects of this film is the dynamic of those around the main characters, they add a lot without detracting from the burgeoning romance between the leads. I enjoyed the family of both Bernie and Theresa, in particular Bernie’s mother Sarah who manages to be sweet and yet slightly smothering, it’s a very familiar motherly archetype and Lainie Kazan pulls it off perfectly. She plays a similar role in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, albeit with a different cultural overtone, specifically in this movie she is Jewish whereas in My Big Fat Greek Wedding she is Greek Orthodox. You could feel how much she cares for her son, and it guides her to reach out to Theresa despite her misgivings about their relationship and her general agoraphobia, to try and reunite the pair. Oh and his grandpa is a mensch, I enjoyed every scene he was in. Funny and just a little bit cantankerous.
The movie more than anything else is charming, it hooked me from the first moment, the jaunty little theme, leading us through Bernie’s childhood working with his father in the shoe shop, and slowly dissolving to the present day. It’s bittersweet and sets the tone of the movie right off the bat. And all of the background characters, it gives the movie personality and it just really brings the whole thing together. The people aren’t just set dressing, they add to the whole production. I adore the candy shop owners, they are just so sweet, pardon the pun and have a very important role since they sell the chocolate ‘kisses’ referenced in the title.
Also maybe it’s something about my love for shows like Murder, She Wrote, Colombo and Quantum Leap but I adore the visual style of things made in the 80s and early 90s something about the simplicity and the warmth, the camera quality and the overall vibe just work for me and this has that same feel. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s a longing for when things were just a little simpler but movies like this are rare gems because it’s honest and easy to digest but is not forgettable.
This movie is first and foremost a romance, and it’s ostensibly a comedy, because it has the fine pedigree of Jason Alexander and because it has its funny moments but it also get heavy at times and both Alexander send Peeples play their roles expertly, with Alexander being wryly humorous and self deprecating at times and serious at others. While Peeples has an earnestness to her that works really well.
That leads me on to my next point, the actual romance. I liked the way it started, very honest, very authentic. A chance encounter that grows into a friendship and eventually something more. Bernie, a bachelor who lacks confidence and Theresa, a graduate student who is beautiful and outgoing. He obviously pursues and in that pursuit, he grows as a person, he attempts to shake those extra 30 pounds that his mother is lambasting him over and comes out of his shell. Meanwhile, Theresa, she’s obviously very attractive and is used to male attention and she’s always involved with someone so she tries to maintain a distance with Bernie as she can feel his interest in her, and the later she encourages that same relationship under less than honest pretences and yet you can see her slowly fall for his gentle charms. They perhaps aren’t the perfect couple, both having their issues but I think they work well together, she appreciates his wit and easy going nature, and the same part of her that wants to become a psychologist to help people is drawn to the insecurities that his weight gives him. Meanwhile he is obviously drawn in by her looks, but his interest is sustained by her personality, her intelligence and talent. They fit well together and have the capacity to bring out the best in each other.
Also I liked how the movie dealt with Bernie’s weight, it was a problem but it handled it with sensitivity. As someone with their own battles with weight and self confidence issues as a result I see a lot of myself in Bernie, and I also see that he feels trapped somewhat by his love of food. He ties good memories to eating and when he feels bad he eats to feel good again. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s very true to life and the movie discusses this, even utilising it as part of the plot without it ever feeling heavy handed. Also other than jokes he makes at his own expense it’s never really played off for humour which instantly makes it better than most movies which have a character who is considered fat.
I think this movie flows really well, it has a slow build, before things come crashing down, and then it picks back up for a happy ending. It’s solid and progresses nicely, without being too predictable and there’s never really a wasted scene.
One last thing before I finish up, I found out in the course of writing this review that Nia Peeples is a musician, and I’ll try and review some of her music in the near future but for now I just wanted to talk about her singing. In the movie she sings at her Uncle’s restaurant and her voice and the warmth she brings to her performance are another key part of why I love this movie so much. You could fall in love with her voice, and if you watch that first scene where Bernie hears her sing you can see it happen.
So overall I Don’t Buy Kisses Anymore is a great film, it’s funny, it’s sad, it has a timeless quality and a real charm that make it well worth watching. It’s got a nice pacing to it and strong, believable characters. I think I’ll give this a 5/5 and suggest you check it out for yourself.
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