An inoffensive and likeable romantic comedy/drama, although it rarely breaks new ground. Light and breezy, it’s everything you’d expect from a French comedy, and beyond a few darker moments, it’s aimed squarely at the feel-good market.
Hollywood often gets the blame for misconceptions of love, giving us a steady flow of rom-coms every year that perpetuate the myth that true love will find us all. Yet the French can just as readily be blamed for taking this myth to a global level, with one of the largest purveyors of cinema sending the blue rinse and pearl sets the world over into a swoon with their quirky and oh-so-sweet magic sojourns through the hearts and minds of our Gallic friends. Audrey Tautou is largely an ambassador for this movement, having won over audiences with her glossy view of Parisian life in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 cultural phenomenon Amelie. Reuniting with her Priceless director Pierre Salvadori (writer of Wild Target), in Beautiful Lies she once again sets out to prove that romance is not dead, it’s just very, very French.
Émilie (Tautou) is a hairdresser who dishes out advice to her stream of clientele, on everything from hair to relationships, but she struggles to help her depressed mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye, Ensemble, c’est trop) find a silver lining to her marriage separation. When Émilie receives a heartfelt love letter, unaware that secret admirer and salon handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila, Outside the Law) composed it, she tosses it away. When Emilie’s father announces that he is to remarry, Émilie goes into crisis mode and rescues the letter, recomposing it to Maddy. Smitten by her newfound beau, Émilie unwittingly sets off a series of misunderstandings and complicated events.
Salvadori owes much to Tatou’s success with Amelie, borrowing much of its surface appeal – not to mention a approximation of the character’s name – although failing to understand the reasons behind the widespread appeal of the Jeunet film. Tatou herself seems to be responding to that earlier role, consciously shedding her “nice girl” image with a tattooed neck, short-cropped raven hair and a scowling attitude. It is in this dichotomy that Beautiful Lies first encounters its problems, caught in a tense stand-off between twee rom-com and edgy commentary on the modern dilemma of love. Tatou’s Amelie…erm…Émilie is a little too intense, and often comes across as a stereotype of the hip urban 30-something that populates the salons and trendy laneways of practically every major city around the world. Indeed, it is difficult to fathom exactly what it is that Jean adores about her, barking at customers and staff alike, and affixing a permanent scowl to her face. Perhaps this is the joke, and if so it is one that is lost in translation. Yet if you are expecting her hard heart to soften in the final reel and a tender reunion after a series of rapid-fire misunderstandings, you will be sorely mistaken. There is nothing than rapid fire about the pace of this film.
Taking an almost leisurely two hours to tell its fairly predictable tale, Salvadori and Benoît Graffin’s screenplay offers few surprises and few belly-laughs, but rather aims for a knowing smile from the audience and a sense of satisfaction that one can also achieve from playing with a kitten for a few hours. Just with the growing feeling that the kitten is losing interest as rapidly as you are. There are a handful of genuine chuckles to be had, and despite a few meanders into the slightly incestuous dark side of French comedy, we all know exactly where the film is heading from the moment it begins. Tautou remains the beautiful eye-candy that she was a decade ago in what will remain her most famous of roles, but despite her “edgier” window dressing, she does little to escape the shadow of a role that has hung over her for the better part of that period. Redeeming much of the picture is the rest of the cast, particularly Baye as Émilie’s mother, bringing much of the emotional weight and believability to this lightweight but easily accessible dramedy.
Beautiful Lies was released 21 July 2011 in Australia from Transmission.