When we think of movies we think Hollywood or so I believe, having spent my formative years in front of a lot of US television and, by extent, the Hollywood movies thereon.
Even using the word cinema, while conjuring the French, doesn’t necessarily take away the thought of American film.
With Beautiful Lies (2010), the message is obscured. Is this French farce seeking a US market; American romantic comedy done with savoir faire or an attempt at 1940s screwball comedy?
Audrey Tautou is hairdresser Emilie (even the character name, mimicking Tautou’s most famous role as Amelie, seems a tease to the Americans, probably considered by the French too stupid to know of Tautou without reference to her best film). She has her fate with the audience set in the first scene when she cuts off a young woman’s long fringe, despite her client and her business partner’s thoughts on the matter.
Emilie has the best intentions and gets herself into a fix but she is still annoying.
Her mother Maddy (Nathalie Baye) gives us the key when she refers to the writing in a love letter – believed to be from a secret admirer but actually written by her daughter to perk her up – as frigid.
Emilie looks furtively about the café in which they are sitting in case anyone is looking at her.
Frigid, single-minded, attractive, with a chip on her shoulder about the more educated, Emilie has ignored a beautiful love letter written to her and recycled it to her mother with humorous – but not hilarious – results. Her attempts at replicating the style in later letters bring about her mother’s disappointment.
It was hard not to imagine what Hollywood would do with this if they eventually remake it, perhaps as a vehicle for Jennifer Aniston. Who might play Maddy and the put-upon Jean (Sami Bouajila), the Harvard-educated translator working in Emilie’s hairdressing salon?
Jean is happy in his maintenance job because it comes without stress, little knowing he is about to send his anxiety levels to new highs when he writes the anonymous love letter to Emilie.
From here begins a sort of ménage a trios without the intimacy as the three characters try to piece together what’s going on.
The plot is easy on the audience but some trails led to unexpected outcomes. The character of Maddy’s artist husband, who has abandoned her for a now pregnant 20-year-old, offered a further plot line but this seemed to disappear without trace.
Judith Chemla as the junior shop assistant Paulette gets the best laughs.
Wowser warning: if you don’t like alcohol, you will be appalled by the way vodka is shown as the best way to get rid of writers’ block or learn to lie convincingly.