by Adam Riske
I’ve owned a DVD of 1998’s Kissing a Fool since 2018. I bought it on the heels of its 20th anniversary to write a column that wound up never happening. Instead, the movie rested in my collection for five years. Earlier this year I was looking through the comedy movies I own and taking out ones to watch that I bought but never watched. The DVD of Kissing a Fool drew my immediate attention. A debonair David Schwimmer dressed like he’s ready for a Bar Mitzvah. A pensive Jason Lee with sad eyes. Mili Avital with a “we’re gonna have some fun” smirk. I was being beckoned. Beckoned by a film Michael Medved gave 3-1/2 stars. I went in curious and hopeful. I left Kissing a Fool a different, but better, person.
Let me take you through my journey with this film:
• Kissing a Fool opens with the 1998 Universal Studios logo which is the worst logo ever put on film. It’s like the Spawn VFX but a logo.
• Over the opening credits is the Harry Connick Jr.’s “We Are in Love” playing over the Chicago skyline. Swoon, amirite?! I’m ready for love and I haven’t even seen a human yet.
• Bonnie Hunt shows up as the film’s narrator. She’s telling the story of Schwimmer-Lee-Avital’s love triangle to an obnoxious couple consisting of “There’s been a mistake…I’m not supposed to be here!” guy from The Shawshank Redemption and “There’s no crying in baseball” girl from A League of Their Own.
• Bonnie Hunt is hot as hell now that I’m 40. In Kissing a Fool she’s got a “not before my first cigarette” energy. She’s all “I know the angles, kid” and “Sit down and I’ll tell you one of the great love stories.”
• Jason Lee plays Jay, who is the typical movie “nice guy.” When someone in 2019 would say “not all men…” it was probably a guy like Jay. Jason Lee delivers most of his lines in Kissing a Fool like he’s defending himself from a false accusation. At one point, Jay does stand up comedy at an open mic to get back on the horse after being dumped. As a man who’s gone down this route, if you’re single and think doing stand up is “the way back” you’re more lost than you could have ever imagined.
• David Schwimmer plays Max, Jay’s best friend since childhood. Max is a sports report on WGN TV with the catchphrase “What Up Chicago!” The Chicago women love Max. If a girl broke up with you in 1997-1998, it’s probably because she wanted to go to bed with Max. He’s a womanizer and commitment-phobe who’s making cameos all around town from The Green Mill (which is known as “The Mill” because coolness and familiarity), Crazy Horse and Ambria (where it’s tough to get a table, but Max knows the Maître d' so he can get a table). This might be my favorite Schwimmer performance. He’s surprisingly good at playing a jerk.
• Mili Avital plays Samantha or “Sam” (because she’s down to earth you see). Sam is Jay’s editor (he’s writing a book…we’ll get back to the book). At first, I was like “Get in line behind Gretchen Mol…. you’re no “it” girl Avital” and then minute by minute I fell in love with Mili Avital. She’s from Israel so her delivery of the screwball comedy dialogue is a little steely and it’s just everything. When she smiles at Jay, I felt like she was smiling at me, and I was ready to do whatever I could to fulfill her hierarchy of needs. I walked into Kissing a Fool as just myself. I left as an Avitalic. In the words of Patrick Bromley, she’s my “Avitar.”
• The other women in this movie are dynamite as well – to a lesser extent Vanessa Angel (I mean I get it, but I don’t get it), an early career Judy Greer (who has always had “it”) and Kari Wuhrer as the type of woman I was looking for every time I went to a fraternity party or bar in my late teens and 20s. She’s fun, she’s flirty and she seems to really like Max. It makes me sad they don’t realize they’re right for each other at the end. At one point, Sammy Sosa (who has a cameo) says something to Wuhrer about going to the Mambo Room and Schwimmer’s all “Keep your glove off of her, Sosa!” Guys, let me explain something to you, if you feel the need to call out Sammy Sosa when he propositions Kari Wuhrer in front of you, it’s because you love Kari Wuhrer. She’s like a sex positive Cinderella in this.
• The movie was written and directed by Doug Ellin (later of Entourage fame) who I would tease by calling “one of our finest modern day truth tellers” if I didn’t like Kissing a Fool so much. I can’t make fun of the dude-bro’s who appreciate the works of Ellin if I’m one of them!
• Speaking of which, this is one of those romantic comedies where it’s like “Yeah there’s love, but you know, guys are being guys, so I can watch it if it’s on TV but I’m not gonna rent it because I’m a guy and guys don’t rent Kissing a Fool.” I love that at least half of romantic comedies are sensitive men just pretending they’re too macho for romantic comedies.
• Getting back to writing, Jay and Sam meet because Jay is working on a book about his break-up from Vanessa Angel. She dumped him and he can’t get over it so he’s writing a book about it. I call bullshit a) that anyone would publish this book and b) anyone would buy this book. The movie says at the end that Jay’s book was a “monster success.”
• There’s a confrontation dinner scene at the end of the movie where all three parties (Max, Jay, Sam) confess everything that was happening behind the others backs and it’s a 7.5-minute virtuoso sequence. It’s not as good as when Elliott brought E.T. back to his spaceship but it’s about 40% of the way there. It feels like it was included because Doug Ellin saw the scene at the end of Chasing Amy between Ben Affleck-Joey Lauren Adams-Jason Lee and said, “I need one of those in my movie!”
I could go on, but I’m hungry and want to get breakfast. You catch my drift. Kissing a Fool is a perfect movie and now a major part of my life. I can’t think about anything else now that I know there’s more out there.