Dreamy pharmacist Alice (Alice Taglioni) is totally obsessed with Woody Allen. She surrounds herself with images of him, continually quotes lines from his films and even prescribes her customers DVDs of his films to help alleviate their ailments. Alice's increasingly concerned family hopes to cure her fixation by setting her up with a handsome French gentleman (Patrick Bruel), but even he quickly realises that he's no match for the man of her dreams...
Sophie Lellouche’s Paris-Manhattan plays to the conventions of the standard romantic comedy genre whilst poking gentle fun at the auteur theory, in having its heroine be a film nerd who lives and loves by the pithy wisdom of Woody Allen.
There is genuine enthusiasm in spades
Charming but choppy, Paris-Manhattan is nonetheless a credit to first-time filmmaker Lellouche – or her producers – for having assembled a top-notch cast and for having secured copious access to Allen’s back catalogue via the man himself.
In (unconvincing) flashback, we see an adolescent Alice (Alice Taglioni) transformed by the experience of watching Hannah and Her Sisters in the cinema. The surly student has no interest in boys or clothes, and even less in her family’s pushy insistence that she develop an active interest in both of those things tout de suite. She meets a guy and sparks fly, but his eyes eventually land on her sister. To escape her newly expanded family’s haranguing, she retreats to converse with a giant wall poster of '70s-era Allen that dominates her bedroom – or rather, bedrooms, for the interactions continue to the 'present day’. Now thirty-something, Alice continues to talk to the poster, and the poster continues to talk back, in spliced exchanges sourced from a selection of Allen’s back catalogue.
This device can’t not be a nod to Allen’s own script for Play it Again, Sam (1972), in which he stars as a depressed, divorced film critic who, after one-too-many viewings of Casablanca, is visited by an avatar of Humphrey Bogart and subsequently gets Bogie’s own unique brand of advice for how to meet and treat dames.
In structuring an affectionate homage to Allen, to his work, and to the general French populace’s fascination for both, Lellouche invites comparisons with her idol that can only be to her detriment. In the main, her Alice displays few of the hallmarks of the archetypal Woody neurotic (such as Play it Again, Sam’s Allan), whose failures could conceivably warrant the intervention of a mouthy wall hanging. However, Alice is presented from the outset as a self-assured small business owner who handily bats off her family’s well-intentioned prying into her personal life (e.g. her one false start with the eventual-brother-in-law fails through no fault of her own). So the expectation that we swallow the idea that Alice is genuinely invested in the existential answers dispensed by a talking poster spouting her favourite movie quotes doesn’t seem earned. From these wobbly foundations, the inevitable realisation that maybe a lived experience has its own rewards has a diminished impact.
These critiques aside, there is genuine enthusiasm in spades, and as Alice, Taglioni exudes warmth and grace and – mercifully – sure-footedness that is all-too-scarce in romantic comedy heroines of late (be they American or French or American-remake-of-French...) If, like me, you are no fan of pratfalls, you’ll be pleased to know that Alice doesn’t topple over a single ottoman in this film.
With Alice’s talking-to-a-poster quirk sufficiently well-established, Lellouche extends it to her profession, where, as a pharmacist in the Marais, she prescribes alternative therapies for her clients, sourced from the store room’s alphabetised DVD library. By and large, her prescriptions are alchemised Allen philosophies, but not exclusively so; one particularly depressive customer is told to watch three Marx Bros. movies "to excess, morning, noon and night", then lets slip that Alice’s reputation extends to having once cured heartburn "with Lubitsch". A would-be attacker is diagnosed with childhood trauma and is forever changed by a two-for-one screener of Manhattan Murder Mystery and Crimes and Misdemeanours.
The whimsy extends to Alice’s eventual suitor, and his chosen profession. At a snobbish party, Alice’s affable Jewish family keep up the matchmaking in order to fulfil their dream that Alice settle down with a nice man who can provide her with some security. Enter Victor (Patrick Bruel), a brusque alarms expert who creates bespoke security systems for his clients, such as one that dispenses a cloud of chloroform, or another which emulates the properties of a taser. Bruel and Taglioni keep a lid on their characters’ kookiness and prop up their characters’ weaknesses. Their barbs and banter are fun, if meandering, to last out to the 79-minute running time.
Unnecessary subplots which have Alice staking suspected philanderers and possible drug-dealers are undercooked diversions (the latter in fact, is neither confirmed nor disputed) but ultimately, Paris-Manhattan is a light entertainment way to ride out the silly season, and seems destined for a terrible American remake.