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Cherry on the Cake (La Cerise sur le Gâteau): Film Review

Cherry on the Cake Film Still - P 2012

The Bottom Line

Good-looking Paris-set tale isn't sure it wants to be a rom-com.

Venue

Montréal World Film Festival, First Films World Competition

Cast

Laura Morante, Pascal Elbé, Isabelle Carré, Samir Guesmi, Ennio Fantastichini, Patrice Thibaud, Frédéric Pierrot, Vanessa Larrè

Director

Laura Morante

Director Laura Morante stars as a woman who may suffer from "androphobia," an inability to be happy with a boyfriend.

MONTREAL — A rom-com where strategic-deception farce coexists with a strong undercurrent of bitterness and the suggestion that relationships mightn't be worth the effort, Laura Morante's Cherry on the Cake has its charms but sometimes feels like the work of someone who wants love less than she wants to want it. A good-looking European sheen helps prospects at the arthouse, particularly for viewers who appreciate a romance that focuses on a woman in her mid-fifties without making an issue of her age.

Morante, who co-wrote and makes her debut as director, stars as Amanda, who friends suspect of "androphobia," an inability to be happy with a boyfriend. The film's take on this question is vexingly unclear: The plot relies on an assumption that her friends are right, but when we meet Amanda's current lover, he's indeed thoughtless in ways that would give any reasonable woman pause.

In any event, Amanda winds up connecting with a stranger (sad-eyed, sober Antoine, played by Pascal Elbé) at a New Year's Eve party and begins seeing him often; her friend Florence (Isabelle Carré) is delighted, until she realizes Amanda's only comfortable with Antoine because she mistakenly believes he is gay. A plan is hatched to exploit that misperception until Antoine, who has fallen for Amanda, becomes so important to her he can reveal his love without fearing she'll flee.

Morante and co-screenwriter Daniele Costantini have a storyline fit for a conventional rom-com, but they neither milk it for laughs nor pace it for maximum effect. (The movie's grabby pretend-he's-gay conceit, for instance, doesn't arrive until quite late, and almost no real gags emerge from it.) It's hard to tell if this restraint is intentional; it doesn't seem to be at the climax, which clearly hopes we'll be rooting for the pair to wind up together.

Also unusual is the film's unwillingness to turn Amanda's romantic complaints into exaggerated comic neuroses. She's genuinely annoyed, not amusingly exasperated, by the clod who gives her a fancy lighter for Christmas when she's pledged to quit smoking for New Year's. Score one for moviegoers who don't like seeing the heroine belittled -- but Morante's hard-eyed performance makes her disgust for the world of straight men a little too convincing. The punchline-like scene that ends the film, which both backs up and pokes fun at her point of view, admits in a very un-Hollywoodish way that, for Amanda at least, real romantic contentment may indeed be impossible.

Production Companies: Nuts and Bolts Production, La Maison de Cinéma, Soudaine Compagnie
Cast: Laura Morante, Pascal Elbé, Isabelle Carré, Samir Guesmi, Ennio Fantastichini, Patrice Thibaud, Frédéric Pierrot, Vanessa Larrè
Director: Laura Morante
Screenwriters: Laura Morante, Daniele Costantini
Producers: Francesco Giammatteo, Bruno Pésery
Director of photography: Maurizio Calvesi
Production designer: Pierre-François Limbosch  
Music: Nicola Piovani
Costume designer: Agata Cannizzaro   
Editor: Esmeralda Calabria
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 82 minutes.