‘The Easy Way Out’ (‘L’Art de la fugue’): Film Review

The Easy Way Out - H 2015

The Easy Way Out - H 2015

Well-acted French dramedy treads on some awfully familiar ground  

Director Brice Cauvin adapts a book by ‘The Object of My Affection’ author Stephen McCauley

Three brothers in the midst of a mid-life crisis try to find The Easy Way Out (L’Art de la fugue) in this French-language adaption of a 1992 novel by American writer Stephen McCauley (The Object of My Affection). Yet life, of course, is never that simple – nor all that original in director Brice Cauvin’s well-observed but extremely redundant ensemble dramedy, which plays like an umpteenth rehashing of the work of Woody Allen and Daniele Thompson (Avenue Montaigne), with a bunch of depressed Parisians working out their various issues through reams of semi-witty dialog. Touché.

Despite the overarching sense of déjà-vu, the film – which was shot in 2011 and only released now in French theaters – does benefit from a strong seasoned cast, including Comedie Francaise stalwart Laurent Lafitte and actress-director Agnes Jaoui (The Taste of Others), who also served as a script consultant. Those names should help bring in moderate returns in Francophone territories, while Easy may have enough middlebrow appeal to find a few takers on the overseas art house circuit.

Antoine (Lafitte) is a dashing intellectual who’s about to buy a house with his long-term BF, Adar (Bruno Putzulu), though he’s not quite ready to seal the deal. His businessman bro, Louis (Nicolas Bedos), is supposed to get engaged but has fallen head-over-heels for his Brussels-based mistress (Irene Jacob). Their older brother, Gerard (Benjamin Biolay), is separated from his wife and has moved back in with their parents, helping to run the old fashioned clothing store they own in the Paris suburbs.

All three sibs are in a major rut, though Antoine remains in denial about his problems, offering tons of advice but failing to put his own relationship in question. He gets some coaching from fellow art catalog author, Ariel (Jaoui), who lends a helping hand until she falls for Gerard, leaving Antoine alone to deal with an uncertain future – which also includes an ex-boyfriend (Arthur Igual) who happens to live in Brussels as well. (Remarkably enough, Easy does not seem to be a Franco-Belgian co-production.)

Hopping between the bickering trio but sticking mostly by Antoine’s side, the screenplay – by Cauvin and Raphaelle Desplechin-Valbrune (French Women) – doesn’t break any new ground and often feels like yet another movie about morose Frenchies whining about their love lives while trying to get some nooky in on the side. “Love and pity are not compatible,” says Antoine’s mom (the great Marie-Christine Barrault, My Night at Maud’s) at one point, but the film oscillates between the two sentiments ad nauseam, while constantly cutting back to scenes of the three boys visiting their ailing father (Guy Marchand) on what looks to be his death bed.

Various issues of commitment, stability and happiness are discussed and discussed again, with the characters dropping other pearls of wisdom like “It’s better to feel remorse than regret," yadda yadda yadda.  It’s all a bit clichéd if handled with more care than your typical Gallic dramedy, and Lafitte (Elle l’adore) offers up a nuanced turn that rarely overdoes it on the existential angst side. Jaoui is also good as a freewheeling 40-something hippy unafraid to speak her mind, and her scenes with Lafitte tend to be more watchable than those dealing with the family squabbles and sibling rivalries.

Proficient cinematography by Marc Tevanian (Coming Home) captures the warm and homey interiors while hopping around town for a few eye-catching locations in Paris and Brussels. A score by Francois Peyrony is mixed in with tunes by Vivaldi, Mozart and Ravel – predictable choices in a familiar if entirely harmless tale of bourgeois malaise.

Production companies: Heriodade Films, Alvy Developpement
Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Agnes Jaoui, Benjamin Biolay, Nicolas Bedos, Marie Christine Barrault, Guy Marchand
Director: Brice Cauvin
Screenwriters: Raphaelle Desplechin-Valbrune, Brice Cauvin, based on the novel “The Easy Way Out” by Stephen McCauley
Producer: Georges Fernandez
Executive producer: Rauridh Laing
Director of photography: Marc Tevanian
Production designer: Catherine Cosme
Costume designer: Jean Marc Mirete
Editor: Agathe Cauvin
Composer: Francois Peyrony
Casting directors: Nicolas Ronchi, Stephane Gaillard
Sales agent: Be for Films

No rating, 101 minutes