The Adopted (Les adoptes): Film Review

A heartfelt but underwhelming directorial debut for Inglorious Basterds’ star Melanie Laurent

"Inglourious Basterds" female lead Melanie Laurent misses with her directorial debut.

PARIS -- Inglourious Basterds star Melanie Laurent makes her debut behind the camera with The Adopted (Les Adoptes), a saccharine family drama that turns on the waterworks full-force (at least for its cast), yet never develops into an engaging portrait of love and loss among a trio of thirty-something Frenchies. With  workable performances but not much cinematic tact, this StudioCanal release should find early adopters via the actress’ fan base, followed by a decent theatrical run in Francophonia. Offshore fests and Gallic film weeks beckon.

Aspiring musician, Lisa (Laurent), and her adopted bookworm sister, Marie (Marie Denarnaud), spend the bulk of their time together, taking care of Lisa’s son, Leo (Theodore Maquet-Foucher) and living fairly eventless lives in the humdrum city of Lyons. Beyond the fact that Marie’s new boyfriend, Alex (Denis Menochet), is driving an emotional wedge between the girls – which in turn causes friction in the couple’s own relationship – everything seems fairly hunky-dory until the day Marie is inexplicably hit by a motorcycle, plunging into a stage 3 coma from which she has little chance of recovering.

If that weren’t difficult enough, it turns out that Marie is also pregnant with Alex’s baby, and despite her condition may be able to give birth if she survives the term. (As the film provides scant scientific details, one only has to assume that such a thing is possible with modern medical care.)

Divided into three parts focusing on each of the protagonists, the screenplay (by Laurent and co-writers Morgan Perez and Chris Deslandes) fails to take things anywhere promising once Marie is more or less removed from the picture, chronicling her demise while her sis and b.f. look on with a mix of grief, despair and hopefulness. The initial conflicts thus give way to a rather sentimental depiction of two people dealing with their loved one’s probable decline, and Laurent tends to play such scenes awfully predictably, showing her characters crying, freaking out, laughing during brief moments of respite (many thanks to Leo’s cute comic relief), and then crying some more.

Despite the lack of real narrative meat, all three leads come off rather well, even if the various sister issues – by far the most compelling aspect of the film – are given short shaft after the thirty minute mark. As the persistent and debonair Alex, Menochet (who played opposite Christoph Waltz in Basterds’ unforgettable opening scene) offers up the more understated of the performances, transforming from your typical French pickup artist into a caring surrogate father and friend. Laurent’s character, on the other hand, doesn’t see much of an evolution, and the decision to skip over essential parts of her bio (such as why she’s a single mother) makes Lisa’s plight less compelling than the filmmaker-star seems to have intended.

Tech contributions are pro, although cinematographer Arnaud Potier (Jusqu’à toi) has a tendency to cover scenes almost solely in close-ups, as if there wasn’t enough decision-making coming from the director’s chair. French musician Jonathan Morali (frontman of the electro-pop group Syd Matters) provides a pleasant soundtrack that tends to be overused, especially throughout the film’s waning denouement. 

Opens: In France (November 23)

Production companies: Move Movie, StudioCanal, TF1 Films Production, Rhone-Alpes Cinema
Cast: Melanie Laurent, Denis Menochet, Marie Denarnaud, Clementine Celarie, Audrey Lamy, Theodore Maquet-Foucher
Director: Melanie Laurent
Screenwriters: Melanie Laurent, Morgan Perez, Chris Deslandes
Producer: Bruno Levy
Director of photography: Arnaud Potier
Production designer: Stanislas Reydellet
Music: Jonathan Morali (Syd Matters)
Costume designers: Maira Ramedhan Levi
Editor: Guerric Catala
Sales Agent: StudioCanal
No rating, 100 minutes.