People look for answers in all sorts of places. Some people turn to their God, some to their parents, and some turn to the arts. You can learn a lot from a good book, or a great album, but for Alice Ovitz in the new French rom-com Paris-Manhattan only one man holds all the truths; Mr. Woody Allen.
Alice (played by Alice Taglioni) has clung to Allen’s films and direction all of her life; turning to him when romantic foray after personal crisis leave her disappointed and dissatisfied at the distance between her own life and the magical one in his movies. The further her life descends into spinsterdom, and the more worried her eccentric family become about her, the tighter Alice clings to the guidance of a man she’s never even met (and yet has lengthy conversations with in the comfort of her own imagination.)
Taglioni plays this role with a nuanced panache, delivering to us a character for whom we have no pity but still somehow hold out hope that things will improve for her. The audience never questions her sanity as she chats away to the poster of Allen on her wall, but instead is reminded of our own personal quirks of comfort and in particular the characters and stories we turn to for fictional guidance.
It’s always a challenge to dial down the twee where a movie character is supposed to be yearning for a real life where they’re the star of their own film. It can be too easy to slather on the cheese, especially in this kind of sweet, pastiche style tribute to an existing director, but the Woody Allen worship is done with a particularly French sense of restraint. We are offered only snippets of his films relevant to the action, and are instead left with small touches to show deference; a similar title card font and credit style to the man himself, small circumstantially hilarious vignettes reminiscent of his comedies past. The simple story is made richer by these inclusions, and the farcical elements are grounded by the everyday people quality of the characters that inhabit the narrative. Taglioni’s would- be happily ever after man is no Adonis, instead a older, slightly neurotic and bemused man who would surely get along famously with Allen were they to bump into each other (as they well might!)
As with Delicacy there is again that deft handed subtlety that creates smart characters who make interesting observations and choices, proving that grand gestures and clichéd speeches aren’t the only way to be romantic. Even the stock-standard chase scene culminating in that long awaited (and expected) kiss feels fresh and charming in the hands of this wonderful cast and crew. Unlike so many other bigger budget, star-studded offerings of the genre, you leave Paris-Manhattan with faith that even if your life isn’t the romantic comedy you’d hoped it would be, things just might turn out all right in the end anyway.
By Tegan Miller