2000, R, 91 min. Directed by Jesse Peretz. Starring Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Sylvie Testud, Didier Flamand.
REVIEWED By Sarah Hepola, Fri., Sept. 13, 2002
Despite its trite conceit -- adopted brothers inherit a French castle from an uncle they never knew -- The Chateau is a likable culture-clash comedy that showcases the talents of its actors. Directed by Jesse Peretz and shot on digital video, The Chateau follows the two brothers as their unexpected boon proves increasingly calamitous: The chateau is falling apart and debt-ridden, the staff is eccentric and demanding, and (don't forget) things run a wee different in the south of France, you silly American boys. By dumping the odd couple in this foreign land, the film pokes fun at their American ridiculousness: Graham (Rudd) fancies himself an intellectual, but he blathers on about The Celestine Prophecy and hilariously mangles his French (trying to convey his approval of dinner, Graham announces to the staff, "I love you potato"); Rex (Malco) sees himself as a player-entrepreneur, a deal-maker and a heartbreaker, but his attempts at smoothtalking the townspeople usually result in scorn or ridicule. Their human failings become even more apparent when both men fall for Isabelle (Testud), the quirkily beautiful maid who is hiding a lot behind that crooked grin. The cast largely improvised their dialogue, resulting in some nice, naturalistic acting. Rudd, an underrated actor who has turned in charismatic performances in films like Clueless and The Cider House Rules, is a delight -- funny and heartbreaking in his stammering and self-delusion. But the movie suffers from inconsistencies and poor exposition, the kind of thing that happens when actors, umm, invent the story on the spot, and the rather baffling surprise ending is a disappointment. Still, with its clever dialogue and deft comic touch, The Chateau is an admirable little film, a funny and familiar depiction of Americans traveling abroad, strangers to each other and themselves.