Crush and My Wife Is an Actress (Ma femme est une actrice) (review)

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Green-Eyed Monsters

This one is going to drive the sick fetishists online crazy. When they type “crush movie” into Google, they’re gonna come up with this Andie MacDowell romantic dramedy, which isn’t so much about the crush she has on a cute young stud but the way her best “friends” try to crush their relationship. It’s supposed to be cute and funny and tragic and heartwarming about female friendship, but it’s really kinda icky. Like Sex and the City, it’s a man’s idea of what women do when no men are around: Talk about men, of course. What else would we do?
Kate, Janine, and Molly comprise the membership of the Sad Fuckers’ Club, and they are SFs. Not because of the sorry state of their love lives — which is why they’ve dubbed themselves Sad Fuckers — but because all they do is bitch to one another when they’re not scheming against one another. Nice friends — if they cling to one another out of anything other than sheer SF loneliness, screenwriter/director John McKay gives us no hint. Janine (the always underutilized Imelda Staunton: Chicken Run) and Molly (Anna Chancellor: Longitude) continually advise Kate (Andie MacDowell: Town and Country, who’s improving in the acting department) to refuse the gentle advances of the Reverend Gerald Marsden (the lovely Bill Paterson: Sunshine). If there’s a damn thing wrong with him, we never know, but if Kate were to marry him, she’d no longer officially be an SF and would no longer have anything in common with them.

Kate’s not really interested in Gerald anyway, so he’s not much of a threat, but Janine and Molly go into jealous overdrive when Kate falls hard for young Jed (Kenny Doughty: A Christmas Carol). Not only is he gorgeous and charismatic — Doughty, if he plays his cards right, could be a huge star — but he’s sweet and pretend-dangerous in that irresistible way. And he’s talented, too, the gifted organist in Gerald’s church, which results in many bad jokes about Jed’s “organ,” but those are McKay’s fault, and not Doughty’s. Janine and Molly act like he’s Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise, about to run off with Kate’s money or something, but really they’re just terrified that Kate will finally marry this guy. Their big reason for disliking him? He’s too young for Kate, and at 15 years younger than her, maybe he is. But they’re simply terrified that Kate will leave them and be happy with Jed, and they’ll be left with only each other’s miserable company. The unspoken but blatant undertone of Crush is that women are resentful of their friends’ romances, but all can be fixed by making sure everyone gets laid.

It’s really sad, not to mention insulting, to see yet again the spectacle of single women hitting 40 and going bonkers. The things Janine and Molly do in their attempt to break up Kate and Jed are truly despicable… and yet Kate forgives them in the end, because this is a story that wants to be about the transformative and redemptive power of female friendships. But if any of my “friends” did to me what Janine and Molly do to Kate here, cold revenge would be in order, not a laugh over a bottle of wine. Are there women like this in real life? Maybe there are. But I don’t know any of them. And I wouldn’t want to.

A far smarter, funnier, and more incisive film about the mysteries of love and jealousy is the French hit My Wife Is an Actress, which recently screened at Lincoln Center’s New Directors/New Films series and will receive an American release in July. With this, his second film, actor turned screenwriter/director Yvan Attal dares us to call him the French Woody Allen, casting himself in a perhaps more than semi-autobiographic tale full of neurotic, self-deprecating humor, high romantic anxiety, and the neverending Jewish struggle with self-identity.

Attal gives us sportswriter Yvan, played by Attal himself, who’s married to a famous actress named Charlotte… played by Attal’s real-life wife… Charlotte Gainsbourg, who’s world famous in France. And his story is about how his protagonist, who just happens to share his name, is uncomfortable and sometimes annoyed by his wife’s fame and the things she is required to do before the camera. Imagine the scene at the Attal-Gainsbourg home one fine morning: “Honey, I’ve written this script about how I’m uncomfortable and sometimes annoyed when you have to kiss famous handsome actors onscreen, and how you have to be naked in love scenes with them and in front of dozens of strangers on the crew, and the leading lady is a movie star named Charlotte, who’s married to a guy named Yvan, and the movie-Charlotte has scenes of kissing and nudity and lovemaking with famous handsome actors and anyway, would you like to be in it?”

This kind of soul-baring, of leaving yourself open to ridicule, isn’t uncommon, particularly when it comes to Woody Allen-esque films, and it’s either awkward and horrible and Too Much Information, or it’s funny and human and wise. Here, delightfully, it’s the latter, and makes for one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen in a good while. Movie-Yvan makes a glorious fool of himself in his mistrust of movie-Charlotte when she goes off to London to star in a new film with still-hottie Terence Stamp (Red Planet), just about playing an intentional parody of himself. The subplot about Yvan’s sister and brother-in-law — which includes their spectacular arguments and their long-running debate over whether the son of a Jewish mother and Gentile father should be circumcised — contrasts with Yvan and Charlotte’s relationship: Every couple has their sticking points, and they aren’t necessarily fatal.

Then, of course, there are the moments in which Attal (Portraits Chinois) and Gainsbourg (Nuremberg) kiss, make love, and (pretend?) to do the intimate things that screen couples do… which takes on an extra layer of curiosity after all the arguing that movie-Yvan and movie-Charlotte do over her work. Was Gainsbourg any less turned on or any less merely absorbed in kissing her own real-life husband onscreen than movie-Charlotte is when getting it on on the set with Stamp’s suave leading man? And was Attal any more relaxed watching his own real-life wife pretend to pretend to enjoy kissing Stamp in his own movie about coming to terms with that very issue? I bet The Making of ‘My Wife Is an Actress’ would be even more entertaining still.

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated R for sexuality and language
official site | IMDB

My Wife Is an Actress (Ma femme est une actrice)
viewed at a public festival screening
not rated

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