Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thompson’s Change of Plans

Dinner parties are a time-honored social convention. With the right mix of people they can be quite enjoyable. It turns out a guest list of eleven is a bit too long in Change of Plans (trailer here), Daniéle Thompson’s comedy of relationships and manners that opens tomorrow in New York.

Considered a shrewd divorce attorney, ML thinks she is happily married to Piotr, her unemployed househusband. However, he is deeply unhappy for reasons too numerous to mention. Having just remolded the kitchen, they plan to inaugurate it with a dinner party, inviting close friends and some acquaintances they hardly know.

Of course, as the night progresses it becomes clear there are a number of hidden connections between the various guests. Since everyone had a pleasant evening or at least pretended to, they vow to do it again next year. A year is a long time though, and events of that night set off a chain of complications that might necessitate the titular change.

It might sound terrible, but one of the Plans’ biggest problems is the difficulty in telling apart its several white bourgeoisie French women characters. One is a lawyer who seemingly lives a charmed life, one is a doctor who is in for a difficult year, and another works in the film industry, yet they all blend together. Ironically, Thompson (with her co-writer son Christopher) is more successful fleshing out her male characters.

Perhaps Plans’ best chemistry comes not in its many romances, but rather with the fast friendship between the estranged father and considerably older boyfriend of Juliette, the production designer. Obviously, they share many points of reference, both cultural and personal, much to her consternation. It is sort of a sly alternative take on the themes of Something’s Gotta Give. In fact, Pierre Arditi (who somewhat resembles John McLaughlin, the musician not the commentator) and Patrick Chesnais deliver the film’s most memorable, finely tuned performances.

Unfortunately, Thompson is too good a host in Plans. Whenever it seems like the film starts to click, she compulsively checks in with another set of characters. As a result, we see all the not so ironic marital woes of ML’s partner in law and the angst of her boring husband (played by an oddly flat Dany Boon, recognizable to many for his Chaplinesque turn in Micmacs).

There are some nice moments in Plans but it is too over-stuffed. Several subplots remain half-baked, while others (the attorneys’ relationships) get tiresome. While it still approaches its relationship issues with an honesty that distinguishes it from many supposedly quirky indie films, Plans is not as satisfying as Thompson’s big hits, like Avenue Montaigne and Cousin, Cousine (which she co-wrote with director Jean-Charles Tachella). It opens this Friday (8/27) at the IFC Center in New York.