Burly and rugged, with a shock of shoulder-length hair and a smile so gummy-sweet it renders him almost pretty, French superstar Gérard Depardieu makes his English-language debut in Green Card, a very light romantic comedy, and he’s…well, adorable. This isn’t the fierce, unyielding Depardieu of art house fame — the one who can tear up the screen with his lyrical passion. Playing a Frenchman who marries a New York horticulturist (Andie MacDowell) so that he can stay in America (in return, she gets the apartment of her dreams — it comes with an adjoining greenhouse), he’s engagingly tentative. The two characters have barely even met, yet when immigration authorities investigate their in-name-only marriage, they’re forced to spend a weekend learning about each other so that they can make the union seem convincing. It’s an opposites-attract romance. Depardieu is playing a life-loving sensualist who shoots from the hip, loves to eat beef and garlic, and is blasé about the fact that he’s been in jail. MacDowell’s character is genteel and faintly snobby — too repressed to see that her mild-mannered vegetarian boyfriend isn’t really satisfying her. The movie is about how she wakes up and realizes that she needs some meat in her life.
Since Hollywood romances tend to be glossy and overproduced, it’s refreshing to see one as low-key and as artfully scruffy as Green Card. Though released by Touchstone, the movie looks and feels like some delicate little comedy with subtitles. Depardieu, even in this toned-down guise, fills the screen with personality, and he’s sexy in a new-style way; the movie could help make big bellies fashionable. And though MacDowell is sometimes a curiously remote actress, that quality helps give her character an edge. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s breathtakingly lovely.) Yet Green Card is finally a little too slight — and not quite as believable as it seems to think. The movie is just pleasing enough to make you wish there were more to it. B