I love Juliet Stevenson — she automatically elevates any film she’s in, with her unconventional beauty and impeccable comic timing. Stevenson has to do Herculean efforts to carry A Previous Engagement, a romantic comedy about a married woman who secretly arranges to meet a former lover (Tchéky Karyo) on the island of Malta 25 years after they last spoke.
Now unhappily married with grown children, Julia has always wondered whether or not she should have stayed with Frenchman Alex Belmont, with whom she experienced a magical affair. Although they ended their relationship, they agreed, somewhat like An Affair to Remember, to return to Malta a quarter century later if they wanted to reunite. As with any good farce, they both do, bringing along Julia’s boring husband (Daniel Stern) and awful daughters, as well as Alex’s sexy young assistant (Kate Miles).
Joan Carr-Wiggin wrote and directed the film, which has a very personal feel to it. The characters and situations are stock, but the writing gives them individuality. Stevenson succeeds where Karyo does not in making us care about her middle-aged crazy character. Stern is very good at being annoying, making Julia’s dilemma less than compelling.
A Previous Engagement should appeal to women who made Mamma Mia! a hit, but if it didn’t have Stevenson, I’d call it a miss.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.