- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

“Happily Ever After” is a French marital comedy that grows exceptionally muddled and tiresome while suffering from infidelity on the brain.

Evidently, it is futile to expect a coherent or cleverly sustained game plan from writer-director Yvan Attal, who plays Vincent, a salesman at a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Paris. Alain Cohen’s Frederic is a fellow salesman. Vincent and Georges (Alain Chabat), a hotel manager, are both married and the fathers of 5-year-old sons. Frederic, the only bachelor in the trio, is the envy of his friends and a babe-magnet, despite a presence that suggests Peter Sellers after a starvation diet.

Mr. Attal, a transplanted Israeli who got off to a fitfully promising start with a comedy of ludicrous marital jealousy titled “My Wife Is an Actress,” once again casts his wife, actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, as his fictional spouse, Gabrielle. The new movie also revolves around this couple, shortchanging the contrasts that might have been exploited between downcast Georges and his unruly wife Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner, a potential comic powerhouse who resembles Jean Smart) or Frederic and any given consort.

Mr. Attal proved more burdensome than amusing in “My Wife Is an Actress” while pretending to torment himself with thoughts of what Miss Gainsbourg might be up to when filming in London with Terence Stamp. In “Happily Ever After,” Vincent envisions Gabrielle attracted to Johnny Depp as a dream lover, encountered by chance in a Virgin Megastore.

The wobbly scenario of “Happily” resolves into a somewhat obnoxious balancing act between Vincent’s evident lapse into adultery (with a masseuse who emerges as a character so belatedly that the whole subplot lacks credibility) and Gabrielle’s potential for same with Mr. Depp’s diffident stranger.

Mr. Attal does have self-evident flair from time to time, for example, in a scene where weekend soccer players race to their cars in a downpour, or observing the blues overwhelm Miss Gainsbourg one morning after she’s dropped the couple’s son Joseph off at play school. Such moments make his blunders and vulgarities seem all the more self-defeating. There’s a bad idea at the outset: Vincent and Gabrielle playing pick-up games at a bar. This beau geste is aggravated by recurrent playful drenchings and food fights at home.

It probably makes sense to reserve judgment a bit longer on the unanswered question of whether the smarter Yvan Attal will transcend the dumber Yvan Attal. Transcendence eludes “Happily” even as he tries to simulate a blissed-out closing sequence — an elevator ride that ascends into a cloud land that appears to represent an adulterous heaven.

*1/2

TITLE: “Happily Ever After”

RATING: No MPAA rating (adult subject matter and treatment, consistent with the R category; occasional profanity and systematic sexual candor, emphasizing marital infidelity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Yvan Attal. Produced by Claude Berri. Cinematography by Remy Chevrin. Production design by Katia Wiszkop. Costume design by Jacqueline Bouchard. In French with English subtitles

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes

WEB SITE: www.kino.com/happilyeverafter/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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