'Avenue' strolls prettily through very little
It's been icy and raw outside. You need a vacation. You can be forgiven if you fall for "Avenue Montaigne," a cheerful bit of romantic twaddle set in the mythical land of Paris in the spring, where all the men are soulful, all the baguettes are fresh, and the women's legs go on until September.
It's from the mind and glitter-pink pen of Danièle Thompson, an established screenwriter ("Cousin, Cousine," "Queen Margot" ) who has lately turned director in an apparent bid to become the Nancy Meyers ("What Women Want" ) of France. Europe needs chick flicks! Thompson is here to fill the national quota, and she's not afraid to cast her son. At least this one's better than her last, the woeful "Jet Lag."
"Avenue Montaigne" is set on the title boulevard in Paris, among the high-rent shops and theaters of the Right Bank. The Eiffel Tower fills the background of many shots, though whether for tourist reasons or Freudian ones it's never clear. Certainly the large, congenial cast seems perpetually aroused while simultaneously mired in a philosophical funk.
Jean-François (Albert Dupontel) is a concert pianist in career crisis; his manager wife (Laura Morante ) treats him like an overscheduled child and he wants out. In the theater down the street from his recital hall is Catherine (Valé rie Lemercier): actress, star, diva, pain in the derriere. She's rehearsing for a Feydeau farce but wants the role of Simone de Beauvoir in a bio-pic being made by a Hollywood director (played by the real thing, Sydney Pollack, in a bemused performance).
Next door is an auction house where self-made millionaire Jacques (Claude Brasseur) is selling off his art collection, to the chagrin of his resentful academic son (Christopher Thompson, who co-wrote the script with his mother). Yoking all these strands together is Jessica (Cécile de France), a gamine from out of town who waitresses at the local cafe and sticks her pretty nose into the others' affairs.
De France is cute as a boutonnière even if the character's a contrivance, and a body might be content to watch "Avenue Montaigne" with the sound off, marveling at the physical splendor of a cast that includes her, Morante, and Annelise Hesme as Jacque's young trophy wife. (Dupontel holds up the male end of the bargain, and the single-named Dani , from "Day for Night," is the film's designated jolie-laid as a stage manager) .
Aside from pretty people behaving cutely, though, there's just not much here, and even devoted Francophiles may nod into their cafe crèmes. Thompson gets off one funny visual image (a row of Jean-Paul Sartres lined up for an audition) and a lot of canned whimsy. At one point the aging businessman says to his son, "There comes a day when time passing becomes time remaining." That's around the time "Avenue Montaigne" crosses the same mark.