A Foreign Affair

The biggest surprise about A Foreign Affair is that it did not turn out to be a horrible movie. The premise is that two Midwestern men go to Russia to find a bride because they want somebody to do to household chores for them. The move wavers between a drama and romantic comedy, never sure what exactly it is. It should have chosen one genre instead of tentatively venturing into one before retreating and then moving to the other. A very good performance from Tim Blake Nelson and a surprisingly normal performance from David Arquette help to cover some of the deficiencies of the story, which there are quite a few.

This is the first film for director Helmut Schleppi and the first screenplay for Geert Heetebrij, which may help explain things. Jake (Nelson, Scooby Doo 2, Wonderland) and Josh (Arquette, Eight Legged Freaks, The Grey Zone) are at a loss when their mother dies. They live on an isolated farm in the Midwest, and are struggling to make ends meet. The boys sold produce during the day while their mother took care of household chores. Now, with their mother's death, they are unbelievably at a complete loss about how to cook and clean. This may be true for some men, but farmers? They're typically pretty self-sufficient, especially if they are so far out in the boonies. Jake realizes that it is cheaper to take a package tour to Russia to find a bride than to hire a maid. He figures that he'll make an agreement with a Russian woman to care for them for two years, then they can divorce and she can get a green card.

The two brothers approach this very differently. Jake is very methodical about the entire affair. He has everything down to a tee. Josh is much more reluctant. Once in Russia, they meet Angela (Emily Mortimer, Young Adam, Formula 51), who is making a documentary about men who go to Russia for brides. Needless to say, Jake and Josh intrigue her, and she persuades them to allow her to film them. Jake slowly becomes more of a jerk, while the foreign surroundings allow the quieter, introverted Josh to open up more. Meanwhile, Emily and her brashness and strong opinions rub Jake the wrong, way. The two dislike each other, but are intrigued by each other, which can only mean one eventuality...Schleppi also opts to ignore some of the seamier aspects of the Russian bride industry to focus more on his characters and their quest. This is for the best, since it would force A Foreign Affair into a flat out comedy or drama.

Blake typically plays the buffoon, and he does it very well. Whether it is for comedic (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) or tragic (The Good Girl) effect, Blake's characters do not really have that much going on upstairs. Here, he isn't that smart, but he means well. He has his eyes set on the goal but is going about everything the wrong way. Jake is stubborn and does not like being told he is wrong. If this does happen, he just hardens his resolve. Arquette is known for his bizarre antics. Both he and Nelson use a lot of restraint in their roles. It's easy to tell that Jake and Josh just do not know how to express their feelings more effectively. And what else can one say about Mortimer than she is gorgeous? When she smiles, it's enough to just admire how beautiful her smile is, and forget about how good or bad the movie she is in is. She frowns a lot here, but smile enough to, wait, what was this movie about again?

Mongoose Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 32 minutes, Rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

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