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PARIS — Having kids is not quite A Happy Event (Un heureux evenement) for one French mother in Remi Bezancon’s amusing, feel-good portrayal of the modern day baby blues. Starring the gorgeous and charismatic Louise Bourgoin (The Girl from Monaco), this polished, well-performed dramedy also seems a tad too slick and cute – newborns notwithstanding – to provide a convincing account of what can go wrong both before and after the bunny leaves the oven. Strong local returns should outweigh overseas action, though Hollywood could seek adoption rights.
Adapted from bestselling author Eliette Abecassis’ 2005 autobiographical novel, this third feature from writer-director Bezancon (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life) is a highly stylized affair backed by an attractive cast (including six credited babies) and plenty of tongue-in-cheek narration, yet never feels believable enough in its depiction of a young couple’s unraveling following the birth of their first child.
When PhD candidate Barbara (Bourgoin) meets the handsome and juvenile Nicolas (Pio Marmai) at the video store where he works, their romance ignites with an exchange of DVD boxes – In the Mood for Love, Catch Me if You Can – cleverly transformed into pickup lines. Things move quickly enough that they decide, more for the worse than for the better (as the flashback structure portends) to have a child, and what once seemed like the perfect little love story begins to fall apart as the due date nears.
Q&A: Toronto 2011: Remi Bezancon Hopes For a Very ‘Happy Event’
Charting Barbara’s physical-psychological transformation with a dose of wit and sincerity (“I feel like I’m possessed,” she announces early on), the film’s first section takes us through her tiring months of pregnancy, portrayed here as an, er, bumpy ride marked by several downs (nausea, fatigue, confusion,) and a few ups, including an insatiable sex drive which she explains with the only-in-France comment: “I just want to get gang banged!” These moments culminate in a rather hilarious birthing sequence, proving that from the get-go, both Barbara and the incompetent but good-hearted Nicolas are not quite ready to be parents.
Relying on an array of stylistic devices – CGI, DV footage, magical snowfalls – reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie, the narrative leaps forward with ease in its early stages, but once the family settles down in their cozy Parisian apartment, it loses traction along with some of its credibility.
For one thing, Barbara’s surprise with regards to the pitfalls of childbearing and rearing seems odd for a character who has the brains to attempt a doctoral thesis on Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractactus Logico-Philosophicus. As for Nicolas, he transforms almost overnight from a fun-loving man-boy to a corporate stiff incapable of holding down the most simple, adult conversation. Since neither he nor Barbara make real efforts to work out their problems, the denouement lacks dramatic pull, while the ending smooths things over in a neat but unsatisfying manner.
Despite such snags, A Happy Event definitely has its charms, many of them due to an energetic performance by Bourgoin that has her vomiting, moaning, and spouting existential philosophy, all while wearing a prosthetic belly. Given less to work with since the story is told almost entirely from Barbara’s POV, Marmai (Living on Love Alone) manages to offer some comic relief before his character fades away in the latter reels.
Tech contributions are solid, with colorful widescreen photography by Antoine Monod (The Last Flight) giving Paris a fairy-tale feel.
Opens: In France Sept. 28
Production companies: Mandarin Cinema, Gaumont, France 2 Cinema, Scope Pictures, RTBF (Television belge)
Cast: Louise Bourgoin, Pio Marmai, Josiane Balasko, Thierry Fremont, Gabrielle Lazure, Firmine Richard
Directors: Remi Bezancon
Screenwriters: Remi Bezancon, Vanessa Portal
Based on the novel by: Eliette Abecassis
Producers: Isabelle Grellat, Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer
Director of photography: Antoine Monod
Production designer: Maamar Ech-Cheikh
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson
Editor: Sophie Reine
Sales Agent: Gaumont
No rating, 108 minutes
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