Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 26, 2014 4:22 am 
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French rom-com with a novel Woody Allen cameo

Debut director Sophie Lellouche's rom-com Paris-Manhattan is a good-looking exercise in pleasing conventionality that shows the French can make mediocre crowd-pleasers too. This one may be pleasing, but it's too meandering and unfocused to be really rousing. Though it could while away an hour or so for those merely satisfied with a glossy tale set in Paris, the only claim to be remembered of Lellouche's directorial debut is its stab at epic pop cinematic reference. Not only does its prickly protagonist, Alice (Alice Taglioni), adore all things Woody Allen (though her obsession only tends to highlight how far from vintage -- or any -- Woody this film is) but Woody himself does actually appear in person for a last-real cameo. He turns up just before leaving his posh Paris hotel in time to recommend that Alice give her full attention to her soulful would-be boyfriend (what does he see in her?), the security systems engineer, Victor (Patrick Bruel). The use of Alice's movie-love and the off-the-screen adviser are loosely, and also somewhat limply, based on the Woody Allen film Play It Again, Sam.

Paris - Manhattan is a pleasing and fluffy entertainment, even though its action never gains traction. The people are posh and handsome, and everything is elegant-looking, including the improbably spacious digs of Alice's quaintly dysfunctional Jewish family, whose head (Michel Aumont) has turned over his successful pharmacy to Alice, and whose mother develops mild alcohol problems. She also has an attractive sister, who finds a husband some years before she does -- if she ever does: her twin obsessions with all things Woody (including his taste for jazz, and Cole Porter songs) and with managing the pharmacy seem to make romantic involvement low on her priority list.

The first ten minutes of the movie take us, not altogether convincingly, with the adult actress playing her character at fifteen, through scenes from Alice's bitchy adolescence. They show her having regular conversations with a giant poster of Woody Allen in her bedroom, which responds with live-voice philosophical excerpts spoken by Woody drawn from some of his films. Again improbably, Alice is wooed in a club while a teenager by the suave, jazz-loving Pierre (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, wasted here), a man at least thirty years her senior, but Pierre is immediately stolen away by Alice's (putatively) older sister, pretty Hélène (Marine Delterme). Hélène and Pierre are wed, while Alice runs through a series of men of whom we glimpse only two, Vincent (Yannick Soulier) and Victor. Victor enters Alice's life by chance, having installed the security system at the site of a fancy cocktail party and gallantly accompanying her when she goes home alone late a night. She takes Vincent more seriously, which, of course, if you have ever seen a movie, you know is wrong.

Does Alice Tagliani belong as the problem daughter of a colorful Jewish family? She looks like a skinnier cross between Maria Hinds and Mariel Hemingway, a clothes-horse version of those pure blondes, though she is made to wear the same red jacket for most of the scenes. Her acting ranges from a pout to a smile. Her splendid bone structure is not matched by an ability to delineate character. If anyone saves the day, it is of course the reliably and effortlessly soulful and sexy Patrick Bruel, one of France's national treasures. As for Woody, despite his huge popularity in France he probably does not understand the language and didn't know what he was appearing in.

Paris-Manhattan (without the hypen in the French title), a forgiving 77 mins., debuted obscurely in early April 2012 at the Alliance Française French Film Festival in Australia, and opened in France July 2012 to few and poor reviews (Allociné press rating2.2), ignored by most major journals. It had a brief opening in NYC in April 2014. Strand Releasing's DVd comes out September 23, 2014.

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