Starring: Vincent Lindon, Pascal Elbé, Virginie Ledoyen and Florence Foresti
Distributor: Hopscotch Films
Runtime: 96 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
This movie is unusual for two reasons. It is a French film and spoken in that language, yet it takes place entirely in London. And it is a French romantic comedy without that staple ingredient of French romantic comedies: charm. On both counts, viewing it is an odd, kind of detached experience.
With the opening scenes of London Bridge, the Houses of Parliament and other London landmarks, you might think that the stage would be set for a unique interplay of French sensibilities and British customs. But it never eventuates.
Undoubtedly this is because it is set in a section of Kensington known as Frog Alley after all the French expats who congregate there. The central character works in a French bookshop on the High Street. Everyone gathers at a French pub, Chez Yvonne. Apart from a few exteriors, the whole thing might as well have been shot on a soundstage in Paris because there is no sense of England.
The absence of charm is a more serious flaw. The two male characters around whom it revolves are lugubrious types. This is hardly unusual in French leading men, but this duo is not engaging. They are lifetime best friends who have failed marriages, and each is raising a young child.
Mathias (Vincent Lindon), who lost his job in a Paris bookshop because he clashed with customers, comes to London to visit Antoine (Pascal Elbé) and proposes they renovate his house so that they can share both the dwelling and the business of child-rearing . Their children are best friends, too, so it should be an ideal set-up.
But it is a real Odd Couple situation. Antoine is the Felix of the duo – obsessive-compulsive in his attention to cleanliness and a dedicated cook whose meals are on the table bang on schedule. He draws up a list of house rules that include doing without babysitters, no women in the house, no smoking and a strict curfew.
Mathias is the Oscar – untidy, undisciplined and unreliable, whose idea of cooking is to wrap pieces of fish in foil and place them in the dishwasher on hot cycle.
The romantic complications essential to the genre involve Mathias’s ex-wife (Mar Sodoup), who still carries a torch for him, and his new romance with Audrey (Virginie Ledoyen), a TV journalist. Then there is Antoine, who has sworn off women after his bad marriage experience and cannot recognise the signs that Sophie (Florence Foresti) wants to be more than just a friend. A peripheral couple are the motherly Yvonne at the pub (Bernadette Lafont) and a shy young customer who fancies her (Mathias Mlekuz).
Director Lorraine Levy, who co-wrote the screenplay based on a novel by Marc Levy, seems to have been enamoured of her characters and their lives, but she would have made a better film had she found a way to inject some sparkle into proceedings.
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