A comedy with grating performances and no jokes. One of the central points of the movie is this crude American cartoonist who is only appreciated by Parisian intellectuals, possibly in reference to Resnais influence Jerry Lewis. But Resnais (and writer Jules Feiffer, who critically also adapted Robert Altman’s failed live-action cartoon Popeye) make an unfunny movie about an unlikeable artist – perhaps a movie only French intellectuals could love.
Joey, Lena, Gerard:
Opens (after the multilingual credits) with a lovely process shot of a plane in the clouds, then follows with young Elsie speaking to herself, alternating between unconvincing French and unconvincing English, and seeing visions of poorly-animated cartoon cats. With a name like Laura Benson, shouldn’t her English be fine? Turns out she’s just not a good actress.
Two years later Joey, a blustery Walter-Matthauish guy with large teeth (played by Adolph Green, writer of the song “New York, New York”) who also sees cartoon cats arrives in Paris with his suffering girlfriend/assistant Lena. He ignores her, hates Paris, wants to see his daughter Elsie, but ends up meeting Elsie’s idol, famous Flaubert scholar Gerard Depardieu, going to his house (followed, belatedly, by Elsie) and hooking up with Gerard’s mom Isabelle (Micheline Presle of Rivette’s The Nun, American Guerrilla in the Philippines), while Lena wanders dejected in the background. A cartoon costume party ensues (with prominent Popeye and Olive Oyl characters), revealing that Alain Resnais has no particular talent for big madcap comic action sequences. It should be over, but we’re inexplicably treated to five more minutes of extremely grating loud complaints from Joey, a couple of undeserved reconciliation scenes, and a possible new love interest for Elsie as she returns to the U.S. leaving Joey to torment people in France.
I was hopeful. I’ve heard this was Resnais’s worst film, but figured a huge fan such as myself should still find plenty to appreciate. Sure it started terribly, but it got increasingly bearable, peaking with a nice looking father/daughter scene in a secret room at Gerard’s house (above). But then it quickly ramped back up from there, and I was left weary and annoyed by the end.
Geraldine Chaplin, sailing safely above it all: