Friday, August 22, 2014

Streaming surprise: Jeremy Leven's international frolic (spoken in English), GIRL ON A BICYCLE

Some movies start out so silly, stretching an already slight premise far past the breaking point, that you doubt you'll be able to continue watching for long. Such is GIRL ON A BICYCLE, only the second film to be directed by Jeremy Levin. (Don Juan DeMarco was his first, and he also helped adapt one of my least favorite movies ever, The Notebook, from its original novel.) But then a particularly good scene helps perk things up, and you stick with it a bit longer. Then comes another good one, and another, and pretty soon you're hooked.

Mr. Leven, shown at left, has both written and directed this German/American co-production, and he has cast it so internationally that the quartet of leading players features an Italian, a German, a Britisher and a French woman. The setting is Paris (it's gorgeous, as usual), and many of the supporting players are French, as well. Interestingly, most of the dialog is spoken in English, which is truly now the international language, so audiences who hate readings subtitles will not have to worry. (The very varied accents on display, however, may give your ears a real workout, initially at least.)

Girl on a Bicycle may be the rom-com to end all rom-coms, so initially ridiculous does it seem. An Italian tour-bus driver and lecturer named Paolo (Vincenzo Amato, above), about to propose to the girl of his dreams, does so and is married. One day soon after he catches a glimpse of an attractive young girl on her bicycle, and -- whoosh! -- he's off the romantic races once again.

Initially we feel little sympathy for the guy, and Amato's over-energetic and mostly charm-free performance doesn't help a lot. Yet eventually, against all odds, the oddball goings-on keep pulling us back in.

Many of the other characters are pretty charming, especially Paolo's bride, Greta (the lovely Nora Tschirner, above, holding newspapers, in a scene with a recalcitrant passenger that may be the film's comic highlight).

Greta is an airline stewardess, for whom one of the pilots (Stéphane Debac, above, left) has an unending lech. Then there's Paolo's best friend, Derek (Paddy Considine, below), forever full of advice about women and love and such.

Finally, we have that titular girl on the bike, Cécile (played dizzily by the lovely Louise Monot, below), and her two delightfully needy children (shown in the penultimate photo), who've been waiting years, it seems, for their father to come home.

Cécile is a model, and one of the film's funnier scenes involves a bathtub shoot and a slippery bar of soap.

All these characters are finally like pieces in a Rube Goldberg contraption, which, when set off, will cause one problem after another before finally bringing the movie to a satisfying finish. Well, love is crazy, after all. Why shouldn't it mimic one of those Goldberg machines?

Fortunately, most of the actors are good enough and enjoyable enough to bring their characters to life so that we go along for the ride. And the ride does grow better and funnier as it moves ahead. By the finale, I suspect you'll have tossed all caution to the winds and whole-heartedly embraced this silliness. We certainly did. (And, yes, there's always that forever-beautiful city of Paris.)

Girl on a Bicycle can be streamed now via Netflix and elsewhere. You can also view it on DVD.

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