‘Gaby Baby Doll’: Film Review

Gaby Baby Doll Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Shellac

Gaby Baby Doll Still - H 2014

More like a rag doll

A new dramedy from French writer-director Sophie Letourneur (“Chicks”)

Distaff French auteur Sophie Letourneur broke out onto the scene with her promising debut, Chicks – basically a French Girls with a bit of New Wave existentialism tossed into the mix. She followed that up with her meta-fictional short Le Marin masque and the Locarno-set feature Les Coquillettes – two chatty and idiosyncratic works marked by freewheeling performances and a certain directorial je ne sais quoi that felt refreshing compared to the usual crop of Gallic dramedies.

So it’s all the more disappointing that her third full-length effort, Gaby Baby Doll, tends to play out like every other indie French rom-com to hit screens over the last decade, featuring two depressive 30-to-40-somethings who come together during an extending stay in the countryside. More polished than her previous works, but marked by mannered turns, dead air, cloying music and a highly photogenic dog that’s practically in every scene, this low budget misstep should travel no further than Francophone fests and film weeks.

Gaby (Lolita Chammah) is a tortuously insecure gal incapable of sleeping alone. So when she travels to a rural mansion with her boyfriend, Vincent (Felix Moati), and the latter quickly ditches her, she finds herself yearning for companionship. Making nightly rounds to the local bar, where she beds – but does not necessarily have sex with – a bunch of country bumpkins, Gaby exhausts her supply of able men until running into Nicolas (Benjamin Biolay), a bearded vagrant squatting the shack outside an abandoned chateau.

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The meet-cute scene between the two, and the relationship that ensues, occupies the remainder of the film, as Gaby and Nicolas begin taking day-long walks together in the neighboring fields, with neither saying much and a running gag featuring Gaby’s constant need to urinate. Clearly, Letourneur intends these pastoral moments to be a form of therapy for the burgeoning couple as they overcome various personal issues, but the scenes themselves go nowhere and hardly reveal much about either character.

More problematic are the two lead performances. One can criticize the heroines of Letourneur’s other movies for their chattiness, but they always felt real and were often quite funny. Gaby is neither of those, and Chammah (Farewell, My Queen) overplays her in nearly every scene, resorting to the sort of slapstick gestures and constant babbling found in many a middling French comedy. Biolay – a singer-songwriter who’s starred in several features (Bachelor Days Are Over) – showcases his usual zero charisma here, mumbling his dialogues behind one of the worst beards seen in recent cinema.

To its credit, the script – by Letourneur and Anne-Louise Trividic (Persecution) – works towards a conclusion that feels partially earned. But even then, the mechanics are messy, with the filmmakers relying on quid pro quos that one sees coming from miles away. In the end, Gaby Baby Doll leaves us a few pretty pictures (courtesy of Jeanne Lapoirie, A Castle in Italy), a really cute dog, and the sentiment of having wasted a month in the country with two slackers who clearly deserve each other.

Production companies: Ecce Films
Cast: Lolita Chammah, Benjamin Biolay, Felix Moati, Pascal Joyeux
Director: Sophie Letourneur
Screenwriters: Anne-Louise Trividic, Sophie Letourneur
Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet
Director of photography: Jeanne Lapoirie
Production designer: Emmanuel Prevot
Editors: Jean-Christophe Hym, Michel Klochendler
Composers: Yongin Jeong, Benjamin Biloay
Sales: Ecce Films

No rating, 88 minutes