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An attention-craving mother nearing 50, unemployed and living with her pregnant daughter and son-in-law, suddenly finds herself with child, too, in the French comedy-drama Like Mother, Like Mother (Telle mere, telle fille). It’s not that often that we get to see Juliette Binoche in a more comedic role, much less one where she plays a pregnant mother who’s less mature than her adult offspring, so that alone provides a measure of interest. But beyond that, writer-director Noemie Saglio struggles to come up with much of added value, with especially the daughter character, played by Camille Cottin (the titular star of The Parisian Bitch, which Saglio co-directed), much too severe and depressingly realistic in the early going to allow for any type of audience identification.
Nonetheless, this should do decent numbers in France, where it was released March 29, and could interest foreign distributors looking for lighter French fare with a marketable name.
Mado (Binoche) is basically a 47-year-old teenager. The blonde-from-a-bottle’s favorite dish is pan-fried breaded fish — think fish sticks — and both her pink scooter and her nails are pimped out to the max with rhinestones and other assorted bling. Daughter Avril (Cottin), 30, is an overworked “nose” at a company specialized in bathroom perfumes. From the moment she learns she’s expecting a baby with her nebbishy partner, Louis (Michael Dichter), who’s still working on his thesis, stress abounds. This is in large part due to the fact that Mado, a former dancer with no income or job, lives with the couple, which causes friction over money and real estate, since the future parents will need a room for the baby as well.
Also part of the dysfunctional family is Avril’s father and Mado’s ex-husband, Marc (Lambert Wilson), a famous conductor. He has to pretend he’s still together with Mado for the benefit of Louis’s parents (Catherine Jacob, Charlie Dupont), one of the film’s most obviously contrived sources of comedy.
For much of the pic’s first half, it is clear that the overworked and quickly expanding Avril is basically mothering both Mado and Louis, not only bringing home the bacon but also having to look after her two adult charges’ every need. Adding a baby to this already complex situation doesn’t really seem like a good idea and Saglio is at pains to explain why — or even if — Avril actually wants a little one to begin with. The prickly domestic situation and the early days of Avril’s pregnancy are sources of some gentle comedy, but they are not quite milked enough for laughs and they have the unfortunate side effect of turning Avril into a very slavish, severe and aloof character that audiences will struggle to warm to. Despite her severe arrested development and the fact she’s basically profiting from her daughter’s money and hospitality, the insouciant and beaming Mado simply seems like a lot more fun to hang out with.
The bombshell is, of course, that Mado becomes pregnant just two months after her Avril did, suggesting she doesn’t want her daughter to become the focal point of attention. However, and despite the film’s title, Saglio and co-screenwriter Agathe Pastorino never make the mother-daughter relationship the heart and focus of the film. Instead, the relationship between Mado and her ex-husband is fleshed out, as is the relationship between Avril and her boyfriend, which takes a hit when they decide to move into his parents’ house when they realize their apartment is too small for two pregnant women. Even Avril’s relationship with her father is developed in the film’s second half, only highlighting to what extent the intergenerational relationship between mother and daughter needed more work. They say they are inseparable, but for both the comedy and the drama to be credible, it needed to be much clearer they are the type of people who cannot live with or without each other.
Instead, for much of the running time, the women seem to be suspended in a sort of uneasy status quo, with their respective bellies experiencing more growth than their relationship with each other. Rather than spending time on quite a few underdeveloped subplots and narrative one-offs — such as Avril’s inappropriate and unexplained infatuation with her gay gynecologist (Hugues Jourdain) or the absurd underwater exchange with a pregnant couple Mado meets at a swimming pool — Saglio and Pastorino could have developed the supposedly central relationship more.
Even though she starred in Slack Bay just last year, comedies are still quite rare in Binoche’s filmography, so it is a delight to see her cut loose and indulge in this flighty and unrestrained character who refuses to act her age. Opposite her, Cottin has the thankless task of trying to make a realistic and overly practical killjoy sympathetic, which she struggles to do. The supporting cast is solid, with veteran actor Jean-Luc Bideau a standout as Mado’s clueless and easily distracted gynecologist, though here, too, there is a sense that Saglio could have done more, with the obvious parallels between Mado and Bideau’s character never really explored.
Technically, Like Mother, Like Daughter is rather classically packaged, with Matthieu Chadid’s frothy, jazz-infused score trying to keep things light even in the film’s more dramatic moments.
Production companies: Flamme Film, Gaumont, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Camille Cottin, Lambert Wilson, Michael Dichter, Irene Jacob, Jean-Luc Bideau, Hugues Jourdain, Charlie Dupont
Director: Noemie Saglio
Screenplay: Noemie Saglio, Agathe Pastorino
Producer: Camille Gentet
Director of photography: Pierre Aim
Production designer: Samantha Gordowski
Costume designer: Virginie Montel
Editor: Sandro Lavezzi
Music: Matthieu Chadid
Casting: Antoine Carrard
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