An unlikely romance between a smart successful Gallic gamine and a balding portly Swede makes for a somewhat entertaining rom-com that could do without the melodrama
Attempting to restate her claim as the queen of French rom-coms, Audrey Tautou returns in yet another soufflé-light offering playing a young widow who falls in love with a balding Swedish man who is older, less attractive and less successful than her. Better still, their unlikely love story takes place against the age-old taboo of office romances- but even before the obligatory obstacles from both their personal and professional lives roll along, you already guess that the pair of opposites will eventually end up together.
Indeed, much as the movie tries to differentiate itself by injecting tragedy into the mix, there's little mistaking that first-time directors David and Stéphane Foenkinos- the former of whom also wrote the novel on which the movie is based- never did intend to veer away from the requisite happily-ever-after ending of the typical rom-com. All that remains to be seen is whether or not the journey to that destination is worth the ride- and the answer in this case is only a slight yes.
Of the film's three acts- the first beginning with Nathalie (Tautou) and Francois' (Pio Marmai) whirlwind romance and ending with the latter's unexpected death; the second detailing the tentative courtship between Nathalie and said Swedish colleague Markus (Francois Damiens); and the last demonstrating their willingness to preserve their relationship despite the objections of friends and colleagues- only the middle one proves engaging with its 'Amelie-like' whimsical mood.
Sparked off by Nathalie's decision to kiss Markus on a whim, this utterly charming middle section wittily observes the unintended consequences from that very impulse. In a clever switch of archetypes, it is Markus who turns out totally smitten by Nathalie, so much so that he deliberately runs away when he senses he may be falling too deeply in love with her. That scene set on a bridge against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower is one of the funniest in the movie- ditto for another in which Nathalie takes the initiative to ask him out for a play over office messaging just as his Google search turns out the exact same date idea.
In comparison to the playful simplicity of the second act, Foenkinos' tries to cram too much into the first, trying to create a sympathetic character in Nathalie. Unfortunately, the tragic turn of events that leads Nathalie to throw herself into work for the next three years before she meets Markus fails to resonate, and seems wholly unnecessary to the central romance between the two co-workers. The third act fares slightly better, but a melodramatic turn sparked off by a heated exchange between Nathalie and her boss Charlie (Bruno Todeschini) who also fancies her is amateurish and changes the tone of the film too jarringly.
Thankfully, the movie does finish on a winning note with a beautiful fantasy sequence shot in one single take- though that alone does not distract from the fact that the filmmakers lack the dexterity at rolling romance, comedy and drama into one. The directors' inexperience also shows in the way they have both Nathalie and Markus narrate their own thoughts at random points in the movie, never using the voiceovers as an effective technique to get to know the characters better or to put a spin on the story (a la 'She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not').
Tautou is once again typecast as the gamine with the pixie-ish appeal, and though she is as lovely as she was in 'Amelie', it's clear this role was never much of a stretch for the actress to begin with. The scene- stealer here however is her co-star Damiens, an unlikely choice for a rom-com, but one perfectly suited for the role here with his wide goofy smile and disarming genuineness. You'll easily root for Damiens, and consequently his romance with Tautou to succeed in the movie.
Despite its name, this French rom-com is no delicacy, though it has its fair share of winning moments to make it more than an entertaining trifle. Don't expect it too to be a smart satire on office romances- indeed, it is too genial and whimsical to offer much on the subject. The best it does is fill out the gap for the rom-com genre until the next one rolls along, when almost certainly it will be forgotten.
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