Daniele Thompson is no doubt a student of filmmakers like Sydney Pollack and Mike Nichols as her latest film Avenue Montaigne draws so heavily from these two filmmakers styles that if the film wasn’t mostly in French it could be mistaken for one of their efforts – their lesser efforts that is, since Thompson never reaches the aesthetic level that Pollack does, and does not even come close to making a film as emotionally complex as one directed by Mike Nichols. But even if a film does not reach the high standards set by these two filmmakers, it needs to at least accomplish the plausible paradigms set by its genre. Thompson’s film surpasses them in the screenplay department and it has some great acting, but when you get down to the technical aspects and the overall effect the film has on the viewer, it utterly fails.
Many people will give Avenue Montaigne a free pass, because it is probably the least offensive film of the year, A Bridge to Terabithia included. But I am not ready to do that. So many times during the film I saw obvious mistakes and badly executed scenes that I felt I could have fixed myself if I was directing the film by simply re-shooting or re-editing them. Daniele and Christopher Thompson’s screenplay is good and it seems to be the part of the filmmaking process that took the most focus and attention. The lines are crisp and delivered well, but while Thompson shows off she is an actor’s director, she is as skilled at putting together a film as a group of High School students would be.
The intertwining characters in this story require that and they are definitely let down. The story is essentially about Jessica (played well by Cecile De France) who works as a waitress (although I am not sure that is what the film wants us to believe) in a traditional bar on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. Because of the artsy location of her job, she gets to mix and mingle with many artistic people. Some are musicians, some actors, and some are artists, but all of them are, coincidentally, going through some personal and professional dilemmas in their lives. But don’t expect any deep psychologically affecting storylines or provocative scenes – this is about as light as it gets.
Many have accused Thompson of imitating Hollywood’s dramedys with its softness and its inoffensive tendency, but that is an ugly accusation if there ever was one. If anything, Hollywood’s dramedy has become a lot more thought-provoking and challenging of late, and Thompson’s film feels more like a revert to dramedys of the 90’s – ones that are so light and innocent in nature they leave a smile on your face when the credits start to roll. Granted, this film did affect me in a positive way, as it does portray an atmosphere where everyone is understanding of each other’s feelings and people seemingly always want to help out. Its a film that cynics will hate and that definitely sweetens the pot for me.
Another thing that does that is the great acting by all involved. While these characters will never make you teary-eyed, as characters in dramedys frequently do, they will make you believe in their plights and problems, and you will find yourself rooting for them. As the girl who gets absorbed in a culture not her own, Cecile De France does a great job with what she is given which isn’t much. The script is not good because of its complexity, but because of its believability as created by good lines and realistic characters. Of course many of these characters would not, at first thought, be realistic to most people, especially ones that are not Parisians, but the actors and Thompson do their best to make their actions feel like ones that a normal non-artistic human being might perform.
The worst part of the film is the technical side, more specifically the editing of the film. Editor Sylvie Landra’s previous work consists of the terrible editing jobs in Pitof’s Catwoamn and Peter Hyams’s A Sound of Thunder. Her work here is the worst editing since, well since A Sound of Thunder really. There are scenes here that don’t need to be here, there are ones that go on for too long and ones that are too short. The whole movie simply doesn’t gel right and the many stories the film encompasses can get confusing simply because of that. The cinematography is fair though, but I didn’t get to enjoy it, and the music is composed with sweetness in mind which fits the film perfectly.
Overall, Avenue Montaigne is a disappointment. It is French to its very core, even with Sydney Pollack’s English-speaking character, and will be enjoyed by lovers of French cinema. But for normal movie-goers this will be seen as nothing but an interesting failure on the part of the filmmakers.