Anything for Alice (Pret a tout): Film Review

"Anything for Alice"
Good chemistry from the leads has to compensate for mixed messages from the screenplay.

The new romantic comedy of French director Nicolas Cuche ("Second Chance") pits Max Boublil's millionaire geek against a factory worker played by Aissa Maiga.

PARIS -- A young Internet millionaire pretends to be a factory worker so he can ingratiate himself with the object of his affection in the French romantic comedy Anything for Alice (Pret a tout), the sophomore feature of Nicolas Cuche.

As in his winning debut, Second Chance, the director has a knack for left-field casting choices that enrich the otherwise not quite innovative material. Here he gives ace Paris-based Senegalese actress Aissa Maiga (Bamako, Caché) a rare romantic comedy lead opposite French YouTube sensation and rising star Max Boublil (The Brats). However, in these times of Occupy movements and "the 1 percent," Anything for Alice seems to send mixed political messages about both the wealthy and the working class, which get in the way of the genre’s typical wish-fulfillment elements, but don’t quite manage to turn the film into a love story against an engaged, socio-political backdrop either.

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With over 200,000 admissions during its first week of release in France in a crowded field, the film opened quite well, even if it looks unlikely that it will match the impressive one million admissions of Second Chance.

The film was again written by Laurent Turner, with dialog by Sabrina Amara, and establishes from the get-go that Alice (Maiga) and Max (Boublil) first met in college, where he was something of a loser student and lover who tried to make a move on Alice in the worst way possible, while she found herself being abandoned by the commitment-phobic father of her young son.

Fast forward to several years later, and the socially engaged Alice has had to abandon her studies and is working in an instant fruit-juice factory to support her cute if difficult son, Valentin (Idriss Roberson). Max, meanwhile, has become extremely rich by setting up a website where men can meet single mothers. When the factory workers rally to protest a possible closure of the juice plant, Max sees Alice on TV and decides to help out by simply buying Alice’s workplace, even though, when he first meets with the finicky factory owner (Patrick Timsit), he doesn’t even know which products are produced at the plant. 

Posing as a simple employee, Max hopes to worm his way into Alice’s heart. Behind the scenes, he spends millions to improve the comfort and well-being of the employees, giving them access to free massages, Michelin-star catering and kindergarten services (cue the scene in which Max and Valentin bond), though he continues to pose as a simple employee who happens to have gone to the same university as Alice. To make matters worse, Alice decides to try and find a father for her son by setting up dates through Max’s website, though Max manages to sabotage blind date after date, since he's got full access to the site.

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The conceit is pure genre fluff, but the underlying economics make less sense upon closer inspection. Even in the heightened fantasy world of romantic comedies, it seems unlikely factory employees wouldn’t be more suspicious of an unknown owner who treats them that well, while the even more disturbing underlying message seems to be that all it takes is a ton of money (acquired through a website that profits from women’s loneliness and men’s horniness) to let the girl of your dreams fall in love with you and, implicitly, renounce her working-class principles.

That said, Maiga projects so much intelligence and integrity it's hard not to warm to her character and she has believable chemistry of the mismatched kind with Boublil, who's up to his usual but quite charming shtick. The wonderful supporting cast includes actresses such as Stephane Bissot, as a co-worker, and Chantal Lauby, as Max’s mother, who infuse their small roles with an infectious kind of girl power.

Solid location work, including for the factory scenes, at a Thai resort where Max and his friends enjoy their millions surrounded by bikini-clad “friends,” and at a chic hotel where Max and his mother are staying, ensure the film doesn’t feel too stage-bound.

Opens: Jan. 22 (in France)

Production companies: Jerico, Studiocanal, M6 Films, Chaocorp Distrubution, Canal Plus

Cast: Aissa Maiga, Max Boublil, Patrick Timsit, Chantal Lauby, Lionnel Astier, Redouanne Harjane, Steve Tran, Naidra

Ayadi, Philippe Lefebre, Stephane Bissot

Director: Nicolas Cuche

Screenwriters: Laurent Turner, Sabrina Amara, based on an idea by Turner and Eric Jehelmann

Producers: Eric Jehelmann, Philippe Rousselet

Director of photography: Guilmlaume Deffontaines

Production designer: Bertrand L’Herminier

Music: Christophe La Pinta

Costume designer: Khadija Zeggai

Editor: Thierry Rouden

Sales: Studiocanal

No rating, 98 minutes.

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