Despite her pessimistic outlook on life, Rita Boyle (Meg Ryan), a liberal, free-spirited aspiring graphic designer and communist who earns a living as a bartender, falls in love with and marries Peter Hoskins (Alec Baldwin), the conservative employee of a Chicago publishing house. At their wedding, they are approached by Julius (Sydney Walker), a lonely, elderly man who requests permission to kiss Rita. When he does, their spirits switch places, leaving Peter with an aged man's soul inside his newlywed bride. Only when he can see beyond the physical and embrace the beautiful soul he loves, will Julius agree to return to his cancer-riddled body by kissing her again.Alec Baldwin as Peter Hoskins
Meg Ryan as Rita Boyle
Sydney Walker as Julius
Kathy Bates as Leah Blier
Ned Beatty as Dr. Boyle
Patty Duke as Mrs. Boyle
Stanley Tucci as Taylor
Debra Monk as Aunt Dorothy
Rocky Carroll as Tom
Fern Persons as Elderly Woman
Annie Golden as Tin Market Musician
The film's title is derived from the Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon/Irving Mills tune of the same name, which is heard performed by Deborah Harry during the opening credits. The soundtrack also includes the Cole Porter song "Every Time We Say Goodbye" performed by Annie Lennox, "The More I See You" and "I Had the Craziest Dream" by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon, "A Certain Smile" by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, "The Very Thought of You" by Ray Noble, "Sweet Jane" by the Cowboy Junkies, and "Someone Like You" by Van Morrison. In the beginning, Rita dances to the song "I Touch Myself" by Divinyls.
The film grossed $20,006,730 in the US and $2,690,961 internationally for a total worldwide box office of $22,697,691.
The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes compiled reviews retrospectively to give it a score of 61% based on 23 reviews.
In his review in The New York Times, Vincent Canby said, "The sad news about this movie adaptation is that it functions as a cruel critique of the problems that, for whatever reason, did not seem important in the stage production. This Prelude to a Kiss is not only without charm and wit, but it's also clumsily set forth: many people seeing it may wonder what, in heaven's name, is going on. The opened-up film lumbers like someone on crutches. Against the literal surroundings of Chicago, the North Shore and Jamaica, Peter, Rita and Julius become perfunctory characters, interesting only for the bizarre situation in which they are caught. They lack any convincing particularity or idiosyncrasy. The same dialogue that served well enough on the stage now sounds arch and coy or metaphysically flat."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said of the film "although it could probably do more with its story, what it does is gentle and moving. The film is fairly hard to categorize, which is one of its strengths. Of the dialogue, I'll say how unusual it is for Hollywood characters to talk longingly and thoughtfully about our search for happiness in this world where most assuredly we will die. Prelude to a Kiss is the kind of movie that can inspire long conversations about the only subject really worth talking about, the meaning of it all. The emotional heart of the movie belongs to the old guy, Walker, a New York stage actor who got his first starring role at 71. He is wonderful here. He begins as a block of human wood, an old man who looks as if he has not one single thing to say, and then he develops eloquently into a person of poetry and longing. He is, in many of his scenes, literally playing a woman in her 20s. How he does it - how he gets away with it - is through not just craft, but heart."
In Rolling Stone, Peter Travers stated, "Craig Lucas's prince of a play has been turned into a toad of a movie. The disappointment is rending, since Lucas and director Norman René made magic onstage. The play challenges us to make an imaginative leap into the wild blue. The film, however much it flails, stays resolutely earthbound."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film C- and added, "Why is Prelude to a Kiss such a washout? I'm afraid it's because the play itself is a whimsically inept piece of high kitsch - a Twilight Zone for yuppie soft-heads. The characters aren't fleshed out as human beings; they seem like urban types concocted in screenwriting class. And so the ethereality of the premise never takes hold."
In Variety, Todd McCarthy observed, "Thanks to a magnetic cast and intelligent adaptation, Prelude to a Kiss has made a solid transfer from stage to screen. Back in the 1930s or '40s, this sort of sophisticated, literary-oriented treatment of a simple romantic idea would have been the norm. Today's general audiences, however, may be put off by the quick-witted talk and mildly confused by the central device, despite its resemblance to Ghost ... Baldwin and Ryan make such a winning pair. Looking great and playing a normal guy whose optimism has prevailed over his troubled past, Baldwin is a romantic lead both men and women can enjoy watching. Cuter-than-cute, almost too adorable for words, Ryan rambunctiously embodies the life force even when playing a basically aimless young woman, and the film suffers during her prolonged absence in the later stages."
Rita Kempley of The Washington Post said, "Packed with cheap sentiment and puerile romanticism, Prelude to a Kiss oozes sugarcoated comfort as might a drugstore valentine crushed enthusiastically to the recipient's heaving bosom. A faithful adaptation of Craig Lucas's popular play, it proves a feast for love gourmands, especially those with an appetite for body-swapping. The less starry-eyed viewers will remain starved for the comparative profundity of a leaky Love Boat rerun."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2002: AFI's 100 Years...100 Passions – Nominated