Nous York: Film Review

Nous York Film Still - H 2012

Nous York Film Still - H 2012

This flubbed French comedy is neither king of the hill nor top of the list.

Géraldine Nakache and Leïla Bekhti look for fame, fortune and Sienna Miller in the Big Apple.

PARIS -- As thin and cheesy as a slice of Ray’s Famous pizza, the expat comedy Nous York follows the travails of five French friends trying to make it or break it in the Big Apple. This disappointing sophomore effort from writing-directing duo Géraldine Nakache and Hervé Mimran takes the cast from their breakout hit, All That Glitters, and tosses them into an underwritten, loose-limbed N.Y. séjour that feels much more like an expensive vacation video than a fully developed movie.

Released to coincide with the U.S. presidential elections (a running gag in the film has the characters chanting “Obama” ad nauseam), the wide-scale Pathé release should rack up decent numbers in its first frame, though poor word of mouth may prevent it from breaking the 1M admissions mark, as its predecessor did. Foreign sales outside of Francophonia will likely be scarce, with slim chances Nous York will ever hit the screens of the city it so lovingly celebrates.

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When we last saw b.f.f.’s Gabrielle (Nakache) and Samia (Leïla Bekhti, A Prophet), they were striving to make the jump from their rough-and-tumble banlieue to the ritzier parts of Paris. (Although they had different names in All That Glitters, the characters here are awfully similar.) Two years later, the gals find themselves in New York City—more precisely, in the hipster enclave of Williamsburg—where they work thankless jobs in the hopes of scoring Green Cards and remaining overseas for good.

But rather than depicting the girls’ trajectories in a serious and straightforward way, the filmmakers make the unfortunate decision to follow three goofballs—Michael (Manu Payet), Nabil (Nader Boussandel) and Sylvain (Baptiste Lecaplain)— who pop across the Atlantic to celebrate Samia’s 30th birthday. Meant to provide endless comic relief as they gawk at the Manhattan skyline and flub whatever words they can say in English, these highly underdeveloped characters wind up occupying way too much screen time, offering little more than a tourist’s eye view of local hotspots and often sucking the life out of the narrative.

When Nous York isn’t piling on the locations and indulging in a soundtrack that features not one but two versions of Sinatra’s infamous ode to the city, it provides scattered moments of interest involving Gabrielle’s and Samia’s shaky career paths. While the former gives French classes in a local retirement home, where she befriends a loose-lipped expat (Marthe Villalonga, My Favorite Season), the latter runs errands for an obnoxious actress (Sienna Miller), squatting her bodacious Brooklyn penthouse and suffering the movie star's abusive tirades.

Yet such fully drawn scenes are a rarity in a film that often seems like it was shot entirely by a second unit, with D.P. Stéphane Le Parc (Lucky Luke) capturing the actors as they gallivant from Central Park to Coney Island to the shores of the East River and back again, accompanied by the feel-good tunes of French electro-rock ensemble Fantastic Nobody.

Performances are lively but never fully engaging, simply because the script isn’t complete enough to give any of their characters their due. Miller makes a brief and wild appearance as Simia’s abusive boss, while Dree Hemingway (Starlet), who plays Michael’s newfound g.f., offers up an understated turn that can’t help recalling her mother’s role in a love letter to N.Y. that makes this one look like a mere footnote.

Production companies: Vertigo Productions, Pathé Production, M6 Films, Lorette Distribution

Cast: Leïla Bekhti, Géraldine Nakache, Manu Payet, Sienna Miller, Dree Hemingway

Directors, screenwriters: Géraldine Nakache, Hervé Mimran

Producers: Aïssa Djabri, Farid Lahouassa

Executive producers: Patrick Batteux, Denis Penot

Director of photography: Stéphane Le Parc

Production designers: Justin Dragonas, Nicolas Raffy

Music: Fantastic Nobody

Costume designer: Emmanuelle Youchnovsky

Editor: Benjamin Weill

Sales: Pathé International

No rating, 97 minutes