Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chuckling at--and with--the bourgeoisie: Danièle Thompson's CHANGE OF PLANS

When TrustMovies first encountered the latest addition to the exquisitely funny, charming and moving ensemble pieces of bourgeoisie-comedy creator Danièle Thompson, it was a year-and-one-half ago at the FSLC's Rendez-vous with French Cinema. At the time he noted that no US distributor had yet taken on the film, but that surely the starry cast, the comedy, and Thompson's past record (La bûche, Jet Lag, Avenue Montaigne) would change this. Change, it turns out, comes slower than we might like, but at least it arrives -- with the opening tomorrow of  CHANGE OF PLANS.  (After Mesrine, this is actually the second film to open this week from the 2009 Rendez-vous batch!)

Ms Thompson's work (the director is shown at right) makes sweet fun of modern life among the bourgeois class, from the wealthy to the "strivers," and she seems to love -- with the exception of Jet Lag -- large ensemble casts.  She chooses her players well and draws expert performances from them all, including her son Christopher Thompson (shown at right, two photos below), who sometimes acts in her films and is her constant co-screenwriter. The filmmaker manages to nail the denial and hypocrisy of many of her characters yet sees these as only a portion of their overall humanity. We laugh at them, of course, but we enjoy them and by the end of her films, we've come to care about them rather a lot.

Le Code a changé is the original French title of this movie, which refers to the sequence of numbers you need to push in order to gain access to a building. For the hosts of the dinner party that is the centerpiece of the film, the code that allows entry into their own building has recently changed, and this provides the first (and probably the least) of the comedic problems that pile up en route.

Change of Plans exhibits a marked difference from Thompson's earlier films in that there is more melancholy on view than usual. Well, we're all getting older and (we'd like to think) wiser. While the dinner party the filmmaker offers is the key element, she moves her time frame before, during and after the event, as befits the various stories that unfold here. This little group of friends and hangers-on, initially appearing rather shallow and easy-to-anger, slowly grows into complex, understandable and likable individuals, their fallibilities not withstanding.
The connections between these people, as well as how we perceive those connections, begin to change.  By the end of this hundred-minute movie, nobody will seem quite who we imagined that he or she was, given the rather brittle opening of the film. While we're laughing throughout, eventually the laughter turns from cool and distant to something more immediate and warm.
As usual, this writer/director has coaxed together a sterling cast of eight top stars (plus several other enjoyable actors, including the very interesting Blanca Li, above, center): the always watchable Karin Viard (center right, two photos above); Patrick Bruel (center left, two photos above, and so different in this role from the recent Un Secret); Marina Fois (at left, two photos above, whom you'll hardly recognize as the same actress from The Joy of Singing and Making Plans for Lena; the hugely popular Dany Boon (below, right); Marina Hands (from Lady Chatterly and Tell No One); Emmanuelle Seigner (below, left: a little weightier here, but warmer than usual and -- can this be? -- even more alluring); and old hands Patrick Chesnais (at bottom, right) and Pierre Arditi (at bottom, left) whose initial scene together is the funniest in the film. All these actors perform like gangbusters, and Thompson has given them a lot to work with.

The connections -- involving time frame, characters and events -- that this filmmaker is able to achieve finally give her movie the weight it needs to be something more than an entertainingly brittle, lightweight comedy. You'll laugh, of course, but you'll also feel the kind of melancholic understanding that only aging in a long-term relationship (however that relationship changes) can provide.

Change of Plans, via IFC Films, opening Friday, August 27, at the IFC Center, will be simultaneously available On-Demand.  Click here to determine if and how you can get it.

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