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Film review: French rom-com Love is in the Air fails to launch

Edmund Lee

 

Love is in the Air
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Nicolas Bedos
Director: Alexandre Castagnetti
Category: IIB (French and English)

 

Contrary to popular belief, most film critics are not programmed to dislike romantic comedies. It's just that, thanks to the nature of our work, we've suffered the same plot turns more times than the average viewer.

So we take no offence at the protagonist who accidentally meets her match in an unlikely place or, annoyingly, finds another half-dressed woman hiding in another unlikely locale. That is, after all, the back story of Love is in the Air: the romance begins with Julie (Ludivine Sagnier) meeting Antoine (Nicolas Bedos, in his first leading role) by chance in a men's toilet, and concludes with the discovery of a half-dressed woman in his closet.

It would be too easy to joke that this airborne rom-com appears to proceed on autopilot. Yet the opening of director Alexandre Castagnetti's sophomore feature offers the illusion that we may have a conceptually interesting film at hand. These scenes chart the morning that the protagonists spend in New York, before their paths converge in a pair of adjacent seats on a seven-hour flight to Paris.

Antoine, who is on his way to a job interview at a law firm, is a Lothario with a fondness for courtship cliches. Julie is an aspiring artist who is flying back to marry her lawyer boyfriend. It is the first time that the two have seen each other since their messy break-up three years ago, and Antoine is anxious to explain his version of events to his still infuriated ex-girlfriend.

The potentially intriguing set-up has the former lovers forced to sit and reminisce for hours. But all Castagnetti manages to show is that he's no Richard Linklater. Instead of letting his characters overcome their awkwardness through an emotional exchange, everything vaguely romantic is recalled with episodic flashbacks. The result is a mainly French film that is no more sophisticated than standard Hollywood fare.

It doesn't help that the lead characters are not endearing enough to engage the audience's sympathy. Sagnier's chirpy romantic comes across as another Manic Pixie Dream Girl stereotype, and goes as far as to specialise in eccentric 3-D photo sculptures that look like the work of Korean artist Gwon Osang. Bedos' character, meanwhile, grows more contemptible with every flashback.

Whether their diverting, yet unapologetically formulaic story is worth your time will ultimately depend on how undemanding a viewer you are - and possibly how few films you've watched.

Everything sounds sexier in French, but even that bit of Gallic magic falls short of enlivening this parade of platitudes. Its corny title doesn't lie: Love is in the Air is as slight and unoriginal a romantic comedy as they come.

edmund.lee@scmp.com

 

Love is in the Air opens on September 19

 

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