Love isn’t always easy, but sometimes the wisdom you need to navigate matters of the heart can be found in the movies. Cinema actually contains the answers to most of life’s questions provided you ask the right ones, know where to look and don’t have terrible taste in films. This is well-established fact.
Alice (Alice Taglioni) is a believer in this theory I just made up, but she subscribes to a very specific application of it. Put simply, she loves Woody Allen and his films to the point that she has conversations with the life-size poster of him in her bedroom. She asks for advice, and he replies with dialogue from his movies. The results haven’t exactly been spectacular, but she’s convinced that he knows what he’s talking about. She meets and falls for a young man, but her sister swoops him up and makes him her own. Ten years later and Alice is still single and pining for her sister’s now husband, but things start looking up when she meets a new beau (Yannick Soulier). Except she also meets Victor (Patrick Bruel)…
Paris Manhattan is less of a love letter to Allen than it is a mash note as it tries to say a lot in a limited space to varying effect. It finds both romance and comedy in its story, and while they work well enough the 77 minute run-time ensures neither really takes hold.
“Compared to her, quantum mechanics is simplicity itself.”
While her sister enjoys a family life complete with husband and daughter Alice dedicates herself to working at her father’s pharmacy. Her habit of loaning people specific Woody Allen movies in lieu of filling their prescription isn’t always successful at solving the customers’ issues, but she finds joy in the times it actually works. She falls into a relationship with Vincent and all seems fine on the face of it, but the poster on her wall (and anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy before) knows otherwise.
Writer/director Sophie Lellouche‘s feature debut is a humorous and sweet little cinematic confection that gives a slight nod and feminine twist to Allen’s own Play It Again, Sam (which he wrote but didn’t direct). Allen’s words play a bigger role in the first half than they do later on, but in that time they come to represent a supporting character to some degree. Alice learns from them but still manages to miss the finer points until a real, flesh and blood person helps point her in the right direction.
The various elements work here, from the comedy to the heart, from the lead characters to the most minor, but at 77 minutes the film barely allows time for events to transpire and then have an effect. The film hits the beats, and the cast does strong work, but it feels slighter than it should. There are also scenes including a couple of early time jumps that feel rushed and ultimately inconsequential.
Taglioni shines in a role that isn’t always likeable, and she does so through a mix of wit, attitude and eventual softness. While she’s clearly the lead it’s Bruel who nails it by bringing casual humanity to a character that could easily have leaned towards being a simple love interest.
Paris Manhattan has all the ingredients of a stellar rom-com except the time necessary to see it happen. As it stands the film is a fun and sweet watch that lacks any kind of real staying power.
The Upside: Funny and sweet; the “Woody Allen” element is never allowed to take precedence over the characters; clip of Gene Wilder in bed with a sheep reminds us how fantastic Gene Wilder is
The Downside: Extremely short run-time hurts characters; plot jumps are given short shrift too
On the Side: Lellouche began reaching out to Allen more than two years before filming started. She was eventually allotted an hour of his time to film the cameo, and it was the first scene she shot as a feature director.
Paris Manhattan opens today in limited theatrical release