Welcome to “Another Movie Guy?”! I review recent new releases, and then mention similar movies worth checking out. If all goes according to plan, you’ll have some new additions to your Netflix queue. Or someone with whom you can angrily disagree.
On the surface, the French dramedy The Girl from Monaco has plenty in common with Whatever Works. Both movies revolve around uptight middle-aged men and their affairs with young, uncultured women. Whereas Woody Allen gently observes his subjects, co-writer/director Anne Fontaine is far more scathing. None of her characters are particularly likeable or interesting. Unlikeable characters do not necessarily make a movie unwatchable, but the added tedium of a predictable plot certainly doesn’t help.
Parisian lawyer Bertrand Beauvois (Fabrice Luchini) is in Monaco for a high-profile case. He’s the sort of upright guy who would feel at home in a Eric Rohmer movie; he’d rather discuss the erotic significance of a first kiss than get to second base. Two locals unexpectedly disrupt Bertrand’s life – stoic bodyguard Christophe (Roschdy Zem), and beautiful TV weather girl Audrey (Louise Bourgoin). Much to Bertrand’s surprise, he attracts Audrey’s attention, and the two begin a passionate affair. Her attraction to him is never explained, or particularly believable. The unlikely couple learns more about each other. She’s attracted to his intellect, and he’s turned off by her vulgar behavior. They discuss the future, and Bertrand becomes increasingly desperate. His work suffers, so he turns to Christophe for help.
The plot could have easily been fare for an amusing farce, but Fontaine has other things on her mind. The key difference between her approach and that of a standard comedy is the portrayal of Audrey. Yes, she is without guile and sophistication, but she is not a bad woman. Moreover, her excesses do not justify Bertrand’s behavior towards her. Fontaine tries to portray a comically exaggerated relationship between two plausible characters. She fails to repair the rift between comedic and dramatic elements, so the movie falters. It is easy to believe the characters, but not their story. That is not to say the actors don’t do their best. Luchini strikes an appropriate balance between snobbery and vulnerability, and Bourgoin is utterly fearless as Audrey. Ultimately the quality of the acting cannot save the movie. Even the numerous sub-plots do not distract from the failed premise.
The Girl from Monaco is unsure whether it wants to provide breezy entertainment or criticism of modernity, and ultimately fails at both. The plot resolves itself in a predictable way, with some closure for the characters. An argument could be made that the Fontaine’s conclusion is deeply misogynistic. If it weren’t for the unsuccessful premise, its resolution might inspire fierce debate. I know a movie does not work when I find the background scenery more interesting than the central action. There are two May-December romances in theaters right now. I highly suggest you spend 90 minutes with Boris and Melody instead of Bertrand and Audrey.
Here are other, more entertaining examples of romances with a considerable age gap:
Starting Out in the Evening. Frank Langella stars as an aging novelist in this observant drama. He plays Leonard, the kind old-school writer who wears a suit while he diligently sits at his typewriter. Like many movie novelists, he’s having trouble with his next book, and is concerned with his legacy. Enter Heater (Lauren Ambrose), a bright graduate student with an interest in Leonard. She wants to write her thesis on him, and hopes that her product will renew interest in the writer’s work. The two begin an unlikely relationship, one that somewhat confuses Leonard’s daughter (Lili Taylor). Starting Out in the Evening is a careful, deliberate drama, one that plays out in a realistic way. Langella shines with this role – between this and Frost/Nixon, his career has rejuvinated nicely. Ambrose brings qualities similar to her character from Six Feet Under – Heather’s outgoing manner forces Leonard to be less reserved. The two eventually butt heads, and the plot resolves itself in a way that’s painful but refreshingly true-to-life. For those who still care deeply about books, the movie is quite rewarding.
Venus. Peter O’Toole is probably pretty pissed that he never won an Oscar, and he understandably swings for the fences in this romantic comedy. He plays Maurice, an aging actor whose desires exceed his capabilities. He meets Jessie, the daughter of a friend’s niece, and instantly yearns for her. Like many dirty old men before him, his actions are without remorse or tact, and she tolerates his advances up to a point. Of course, things get slightly more complicated when Jessie’s gets a new boyfriend. It’s funny and a little humiliating to watch Maurice in the midst of unfulfilled lust. O’Toole delivers yet another stellar performance, one bursting with intelligence and wit. In the hands of a lesser actor, Maurice might have been too creepy, but O’Toole turns him into a lovable old creep. In addition to an interesting central relationship, there are number of watchable minor characters, particularly Richard Griffiths as Maurice’s friend and Vanessa Redgrave as his ex-wife. O’Toole did not win the Oscar for Venus, and it’s unlikely he’ll ever get another opportunity. But don’t feel too bad for the guy – it’s rare for an actor to get such a fun part to play.
Chris & Don. A Love Story. This documentary looks at an unlikely but successful love affair between two men who share a 30 year age difference. Christopher Isherwood, a British novelist most famous for Cabaret, is a man who knows what he wants. When he meets Don Bachardy, a handsome teenage beach bum, he knows he’s found something special. At first Don is intimidated by Chris’ intellectual friends. Over the years, however, Don gets the opportunity develop his career, and becomes a talented painter. Co-directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi ably chronicle this fascinating relationship. The closeness between Chris and Don is a little creepy – Don eventually adopts Chris’ accent, and the two even bear a strong resemblance. Friends explicitly state Chris was looking for someone not unlike himself, and yet their genuine warmth assuages such creepiness. The documentary inevitably looks at the decline of Chris’ health and his eventual death. The final scenes are touching, particularly in the way Don fondly remembers his partner. Documentarians rarely choose soul mates as a subject, and it’s great to see a positive movie about the connection between two remarkable people.