Plucky heroine charms in ‘Avenue Montaigne’

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 22, 2007 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

A fancy address doesn’t intimidate a perky young waitress in “Avenue Montaigne,” a fluffy but nearly irresistible comedy about ignoring boundaries. This is one of those French comedies that don’t amount to much but pass the time very agreeably.

The waitress is Jessica (Cecile De France), who is inspired by the stories of her grandmother (the grand French star Suzanne Flon, who died after filming). As grandma points out, proximity to richness and beauty doesn’t necessarily require money.

Therefore, Jessica lands a waitressing job at a cafe across the street from a great Paris arts complex. Because she sometimes scurries inside the theater with food for the artists, she ingratiates herself into three storylines.

There’s a famous pianist (Albert Dupontel, from “A Very Long Engagement”) who’s suffering through a career crisis. The thought of being booked for the next six years of his life is provoking major anxiety attacks.

There’s a famous art collector (Claude Brasseur), who is putting his vast collection up for auction at the complex. His son (Christopher Thompson) has a skeptical view of this, just as he has a skeptical view of his father’s mistress (Annelise Hesme), with whom he shares some history.

And then there’s a famous actress (the uproarious Valerie Lemercier), a star on a TV soap, who’s rehearsing a Feydeau play at the theater. She is also trying to snag the role of famous existentialist Simone de Beauvoir in a new movie, to be directed by a visiting American (played with good humor by director Sydney Pollack).

Jessica befriends all these folks, because she’s got incredible pluck. She’s also incredibly cute, which doesn’t hurt.

Cecile De France, who has been seen to quite different effect in “Around the World in 80 Days” and “High Tension,” is definitely a woman who could charm her way into strangers’ lives with ease. Even her disconcerting resemblance to Macaulay Culkin doesn’t wreck it.

Director Daniele Thompson (“Jet Lag”) keeps the different plot strands weaving together; by the way, that’s her son Christopher as the art collector’s son (they wrote the script in tandem). It all feels lightweight and easy, even as it is built on the dissatisfaction of its characters. Good comedy tends to come from frustration, and “Avenue Montaigne” follows that script very shrewdly.

A scene from “Avenue Montaigne.”

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