Happily Ever After
2004, NR, 100 min. Directed by Yvan Attal. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Alain Chabat, Alain Cohen, Emmanuelle Seigner.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Sept. 30, 2005
Movies about marital fidelity come in two flavors: the bitter suburban satire and the frothy comedic soufflé perfected by the French. Though ironically titled (in French and English) and ugly in moments, Happily Ever After is closer to the latter. Masculine jealousy is funny (as we’ve seen before in Attal’s My Wife Is an Actress) and spouses barely tolerable, à la Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn. Of the characters here – three guys’ guys who sell luxury cars, play soccer and poker, and discuss the vagaries of femininity over power lunches – one poor schmuck, Georges (Chabat), is so henpecked (by spitfire Seigner) that he shrieks, "One day I’ll kill her! Go to jail. Who cares?" It’s too bad Attal falls back on so many bad relationship clichés for a punchline; in moments – particularly when Gainsbourg, Attal’s offscreen wife, is around – he stumbles into an exalted state of truth-telling. Middle-aged Vincent (Attal) is married to Gabrielle (Gainsbourg) but schtupping his massage therapist (Angie David), even though they have a child (Ben, the Attals’ real-life son) and a lovely apartment with all the trimmings. Why isn’t Vincent happy? What does he want? Why can’t he love two women at once? Blustery Georges is no help with this dilemma, and a third pal (Cohen) just plays the field. Meanwhile, as Gabrielle starts to catch on to Vincent’s perfidy, she becomes aware of how hot she is. Vincent’s scenes are just what you’d expect from a French Sex Comedy – ostensibly racy, but philosophically overstated and obvious, with cues from the soundtrack beating the viewer over the head for good measure. (When Vincent’s still-married parents, Gallic icons Anouk Aimée and Claude Berri, dine à deux in silence at their regular table, Radiohead sings "No Surprises.") But Gabrielle’s scenes are riskier and ultimately more interesting, dramatically and ethically. She knows what a wronged woman is supposed to do – rage and rend her casually stylish wardrobe – but instead she does what wronged women actually do: She smiles through breakfast, grits her teeth through dropping her son off at school, and collapses into tears for a moment over a coffee she orders but doesn’t finish before meeting a client at work. Gainsbourg is a watchable, down-to-earth actress, and her Gabrielle is the sort of no-nonsense, slow-burn charmer all her husband’s friends secretly love from afar. For her trouble, the film gives her an admirer in the form of Johnny Depp, who cameos memorably in two scenes. Sadly, the rest of the movie is kind of a mess – all over the place tonally, hastily paced, and overly reliant on the ostensible truisms of romantic comedy.