Aping the style, cadence, and rhythm of a Woody Allen production is unenviable at best and unwise at worst. His particular brand of observational comedy and snappy, realistic, and intellectual dialogue is a touch sell at times even when done by the master himself, and for a first time feature filmmaker like Sophie Lellouche to produce something as admirable as the French romantic comedy Paris-Manhattan, it becomes a reason to celebrate. It’s not a perfect film, bearing the marks of most any first timer working on this ambitious a scale, but it’s a charming, compact, and well versed ode to a type of cinema that rarely gets treated this skilfully.
Alice Ovitz (Alice Taglioni) is a Parisian pharmacist in her 30s who has been obsessed with Woody Allen since she was 15. She can hear his voice giving her advice from the poster in her room at the foot of her bed, and she often wonders if any man in her life could ever possibly compare to her idol. She finds herself drawn between two men in her life. Vincent (Yannick Soulier) is more her speed. He’s the kind of guy who will just start playing Cole Porter tunes in the middle of a restaurant just to make his date happy, but his also drably predictable. Victor (Patrick Bruel) is the burglar alarm manufacturer her doting parents would most like to see her with, but she sees as more of a friend. He’s perceptive and funny in his own way, but he knows nothing of Woody Allen or cinema in general.
Like a classic Allen production there’s plenty going on around the periphery that doesn’t always play into the main storyline perfectly. There are asides about Alice’s sister getting potentially cheated on and a discussion of how her mother is a closeted alcoholic, but they’re in service of strengthening a character and not necessarily for a huge payoff. None of these points are dragged out, however, because Lellouche shares Allen’s sense of economy, with the film barely clocking in at 75 minutes because it really doesn’t need to be any longer or shorter than that. It’s a film that knows its place quite perfectly, and a trait that not even Allen as of late has seemed to remember.
Taglioni is a likeably flawed heroine, playing Alice as a strong willed wallflower that’s insists she’s fine where she is in life until someone produces evidence to the contrary. Bruel kind of steals the show as the resident sceptic that thinks everyone is reading too deeply into their own lives, despite his inability to stop analyzing the behaviour of those around him. They are both interesting sets of double standards, and the kind of characters that Allen would have created back when he was actively making the types of films Lellouche is trying to emulate.
It all culminates in a sort of fantastical final act that leads almost to an expected place, but it feels earned and unforced. At times having Alice talk to herself can get a little too cute and heavy handed, and not every scene transitions all that well into the next, but the entirety of Paris-Manhattan when added up is a pleasant lark. It’s a simple and well versed bit of hero worship that does right by the man being examined and the audience watching the examination.
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