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Writer-director Eric Lavaine returns less than a year after his 2016 dramedy Back to Mom’s (Retour chez ma mere) topped the French box office with You Choose (L’Embarras du choix), a self-consciously quirky romantic comedy. Lavaine has made a specialty of lighthearted fare, but adopts such a broad tone for his newest feature that it’s unlikely to appeal to American tastes, although European audiences may prove more receptive.
Part of the issue is the implausibility of the premise, which features a protagonist who’s meant to seem unpredictably flaky, but comes off as emotionally dysfunctional. Even at the age of 40, Juliette (Alexandra Lamy) remains chronically indecisive, to the point that her inability to make choices consistently disrupts her personal life. Fortunately, she works for her father Richard (Lionnel Astier), managing his small Paris bistro and feels fine about him making most major decisions for her. Her best friends, hair stylist Joelle (Anne Marivin) and fashion plate Sonia (Sabrina Ouazani), help her select appropriate hairstyles and wardrobes, so that Juliette rarely needs to decide anything for herself. However, when her boyfriend breaks things off with her because of her constant vacillations, the rejection sends Juliette into a total tailspin.
After some sympathetic TLC, Joelle and Sonia get Juliette back on her feet by helping her set up a Tinder account, but their best efforts only create further chaos when she manages to meet cute with the wrong man. A Scottish banker visiting Paris on business, Paul (Jamie Bamber) makes no effort to discourage Juliette, but after a romantic weekend together convinces her that she’s found the one, he drops the bomb: He’s actually engaged to marry his British sweetheart within months. Although she reluctantly sends him packing, Juliette ends up down in the dumps again, with Sonia and Joelle attempting to help her rally.
Her opportunity arrives at a raucous lakeside party, where a drunken Juliette assures Joelle that she’ll pounce on the next man hitting the catering spread. Luckily, he turns out to be handsome and charming Etienne (Arnaud Ducret), a well-known chef who’s a graduate of the same culinary school as her father, so Dad’s approval quickly seals the deal and Juliette is suddenly back on top of her game. Then Paul suddenly resurfaces, presenting Juliette with the most paralyzing set of choices she’s ever confronted. With the stakes quickly escalating, she’ll need to make a decisive determination about her future or else face the catastrophic consequences of her habitual indecision.
Despite an attractive cast, Lavaine lays on his combination of wacky humor and saccharine romance rather too thickly, rendering the gags much too obvious for American audiences accustomed to the more calculated approach favored by R-rated comedies of this variety. Lamy, who also co-starred in Back to Mom’s, possesses no shortage of comedic credentials, which she utilizes to somewhat repetitive effect throughout the film. Although she’s clearly at the mercy of the script by Lavaine and co-writers Laure Hennequart and Laurent Turner, all of the self-pitying tears and frantic physical comedy become a bit exhausting to watch as each new crisis provokes an almost identical reaction from Juliette.
The male characters appear more stereotypically grounded, although Ducret comes across as little more than generically amusing. British actor Bamber really connects though, switching effortlessly between French and English with a twinkling grin as he cleverly charms Juliette into reconsidering his commitment to her.
Lavine clearly has a deft touch with comedy, particularly in his rapport with actors, so it’s not inconceivable that an upcoming film could cross over with American audiences, but it will need to be better attuned to stateside sensibilities than You Choose.
Production companies: Sombrero Films, Atelier de Production
Cast: Alexandra Lamy, Arnaud Ducret, Jamie Bamber, Anne Marivin, Sabrina Ouazani, Jerome Commandeur, Lionnel Astier
Director: Eric Lavaine
Screenwriters: Laure Hennequart, Laurent Turner, Eric Lavaine
Producers: Alain Benguigui , Thomas Verhaeghe
Director of photography: Francois Hernandez
Costume designer: Aurore Pierre
Editor: Vincent Zuffranieri
Music: Fabien Cahen
Venue: COLCOA French Film Festival
Sales: Pathe Distribution
Not rated, 97 minutes
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