The global recession we currently find ourselves in has many causes, but one of the more obvious ones has to do with the machinations and maneuverings of the men and women who work in the financial market. Movies like the recent Margin Call and Wall Street sequel used this environment for fast paced financial drama (with varying success), but that’s not the only genre the crisis can intrude upon.
Perhaps there’s a bit of romance and a few laughs to be found amidst the greed, depression, and suffering too.
That was apparently the hope anyway with the new French film, My Piece of the Pie, but the end results are anything but humorous or romantic. They’re not even all that dramatic. Hell, the ending isn’t even an ending.
“If I ever live with a woman again, I want you with me every day. You’ll be my woman interpreter.”
Steve (Gilles Lellouche) is a London-based financial wunderkind whose latest legal smash-n-grab involved a factory in a small coastal town in France, and he’s rewarded with a cushy promotion running a new hedge fund in Paris. He watches the TV news with near disinterest as they report on the massive layoffs at the factory and the near suicide of one of its employees. France (Karin Viard) is that near-suicide, and once she recovers she heads to Paris for training in the housekeeper field and gets a job at Steve’s new condo.
Neither of the two know about their common grounds, and thus begins an odd relationship that promises both connection and conflict. So far so good, and even if their meet up is a bit contrived far worse coincidences have graced the screen in the name of romance, comedy and drama.
The problem with the scenario here though is that neither of these people are very likeable, and that never changes. Steve is a self-involved prick who would rather spend time in front of his computer screens than with his son from a failed relationship. He’s cruel to those around him even going so far as to force himself upon a woman who he’s treated to a luxurious weekend getaway. Perhaps it’s meant to be seen as an aggressive seduction, but it looks like date rape to these eyes. That’s a long road for any character to come back from, and sexual assault aside it takes the film a full hour before he begins showing the slightest hint of humanity. Too little too late doesn’t even scratch the surface here. Lellouche, who also stars in the adrenaline filled Point Blank, does a fine enough job with the role, but the character rarely does anything to encourage affection or interest.
France isn’t mean-spirited or greedy, but she’s clearly got issues including a selfish streak evident in her suicide attempt which would have left her three daughters behind. It’s never touched on again either which presents an invisible wall between her character and the audience’s concern. More damaging though is Viard’s performance as she often feels like she’s acting in a completely different movie. She plays the comedic moments so ridiculously broad that the tones clash with the attempts at drama surrounding her “funny” Russian accent and goofy faces.
Writer/director Cédric Klapisch had a commercial and critical hit in 2002 with L’Auberge Espagnole (and has/is following it up with two sequels), but where that film made good use of the characters in a story that weaved naturally between drama and comedy this one fails to do the same.
The film’s third act attempts to raise the stakes in a way that seems at first to be expected before taking a sharp left turn in an entirely new direction. It’s nonsensical but exciting nonetheless for the boldness on display, and you can’t help but wonder how Klapisch will pull it off… until you realize he has no such plans. Viewers can fill in the blanks as to what comes next even to the point of redeeming the film, but that’s not their job. It’s the filmmaker’s.
There’s a kernel of a good and intriguing story at work here in its attempt to use the grand drama of the recession as a backdrop for a character piece with two divergent souls. Once the film commits to the coincidence of the two meeting it should have allowed itself to hit the other expected beats as well. Give viewers the blow-up, the change of heart, the redemption… give the viewer something that qualifies as real character growth. My Piece of the Pie does none of that and instead squanders an intriguing setup and two potentially interesting characters. Forget coming back for seconds, this piece of pie is barely worth the first bite.