“Paris-Manhattan” – French Comedy Inspired by Woody Allen Fizzles – Los Angeles movie review

“Paris-Manhattan” – French Comedy Inspired by Woody Allen Fizzles – Los Angeles movie review

If you’re not a Woody Allen fan – and I am not – you may have trouble relating to writer/director Sophie Lellouche’s pleasant if uninspiring chick flick whose hook – the main character’s obsession with the famously neurotic American director – is more turnoff than come on.

Set, like many other forgettable French films, against a backdrop of privilege it centers on the love life of an attractive professional woman named Alice (Alice Taglioni).  Pretty and single, thirty-something Alice still nurtures the disgruntled anti-Establishment attitudes she sported in college. Having at one time met the man of her dreams – only to lose him to her even prettier and more conventional sister – she resists the efforts of her family to find her a mate, declaring that the single life suits her just fine. At parties, she wallows in disdain for the people in the social circle in which she moves, sometimes treating them rudely without provocation, and then retiring to her bedroom to find solace in imaginary dialogues with Allen, a giant poster of whom dominates a wall.

During the day Alice constructs her life around the family pharmacy – which she has taken over from her dad – while expressing her bohemian spirit by handing out DVDs of Allen’s films as bromides for her customers’ ills.  One day she meets Victor (Patrick Bruel), a self-employed guy whose business is alarm systems, and who shows up at her pharmacy to install one. Though he finds her attractive, commonsense Victor’s internal alarm system warns him to keep his distance – even more so when he learns that Alice is dating Vincent (Yannick Soulier), a businessman friend of her brother-in-law. As part of the film’s setup, Alice and the conventional Vincent mince through the steps of your typical date-mating dance (yawn). A spark is missing, and despite her denials it’s plain that Alice recognizes it too and that it is Victor, not Vincent, who piques her interest.

As is typical of featherweight rom-coms the lovers at the story’s center start out poles apart before realizing their romantic destiny. Here it’s obvious from the get-go that Victor will save Alice from herself.  Bruel’s thoughtful commonsensical swain is such a refreshing foil for Alice’s pretentious nonsense and the stuffiness of her family that he not only rescues her but the movie as well, making it watchable as long as he is on camera.  The other fun person to watch is Michel Aumont who, as Alice’s doting Jewish dad and the family’s unflappable patriarch, cuts through the schlock with an unassuming idiosyncratic presence.

Lellouche’s script tries to tackle real life issues with a subplot that has Alice’s mom (MarieChristine Adam) an alcoholic in denial who drinks on the sly, but the story point seems contrived.  Perhaps the film’s main problem is its premise that Alice – who does, after all, go to work every day, and maintain a cordial and loving relationship with her family – is a radical non-conformist, when the truth is the character comes off as little more than mildly eccentric. And while it’s surely possible for someone who looks like a fashion model to play an oddball misfit, Taglioni just doesn’t pull it off. Too tall, too slim, too chic and too utterly charming at her core, she is completely miscast as a misanthropic grumbler. You get the feeling the film itself has been mis-made into a light-hearted French comedy, stripped and sanitized of any loneliness and heartache that might have been elements in the filmmaker’s early drafts, before her script fell into the hands of some commercial-minded deep-pocketed producer.

This is merely a wild surmise for which I have no concrete basis – but there it is. For all that, beneath its candy coating, the movie isn’t a total wash. Occasionally witty and well-observed, it manages, despite the irksome Woody Allen worship and a silly plot, to take a few fun twists and turns before lapsing into a predictable, feel-good ending.

Playing at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 on Town Center 5 and Laemmle Playhouse 7 in May, 2013.

Review by Deborah Klugman.

Deborah Klugman

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