"...And They Lived Happily Ever After" follows three male buddies and the women in their lives. Scripter-helmer-thesp Yvan Attal's narrative and cinematic choices clicked commercially with "My Wife's an Actress" (2001) and will probably do so again, but mix of banal and contrived story elements is simultaneously trite and overblown.

A meditation on the joys and pitfalls of coupledom that aims for a good relationship with auds but will have some viewers clamoring for divorce, “…And They Lived Happily Ever After” follows three male buddies and the women in their lives. Scripter-helmer-thesp Yvan Attal’s narrative and cinematic choices clicked commercially with “My Wife’s an Actress” (2001) and will probably do so again, but mix of banal and contrived story elements is simultaneously trite and overblown.

Inveterate ladies’ man Fred (Alain Cohen) sells cars alongside Vincent (Attal) who is married to realtor Gabrielle (his real life companion since 1991, Charlotte Gainsbourg). They have a son, as does their pal Georges (Alain Chabat), a hotel manager whose strident wife Nathalie (Emmanuelle Seigner) is obsessed with making cracks about sexual equality.

Only Gabrielle — whose daydream-style flights of fancy constitute pic’s few almost-original touches — has both an inner and outer life. She senses that Vincent has a mistress (Angie David) but chooses not to let on that she knows.

Pic’s problem is that the three males as presented have nothing special to offer except that they work for a living and aren’t disfigured. There’s very little wit, charm or even energy on display.

Vincent’s idea of showing his family affection consists of dousing them with water or ketchup. Georges and Nathalie are always at each other’s throats. Fred picks up women the way a dark sofa attracts lint. Gabrielle is more appealing but still far from riveting.

Thesps (Gainsbourg excepted) rarely transcend the schematic material to seem like anything other than characters in a movie who have been positioned to explore two worthy themes: Is marital infidelity destructive or no big deal? Is it terminally bourgeois to be faithful and raise kids?

Repetitive and needlessly prolonged tale does build to an inspired final scene, but it’s too little, too late.

Faux-spontaneous widescreen camerawork is tiresome. Mostly English-language songs are used as sometimes apt, sometimes clumsy punctuation. Claude Berri and Anouk Aimee are well cast as Vincent’s parents and Johnny Depp is a classy guest star.

For the record, non-pro Cohen played the little boy in producer Claude Berri’s 1968 “The Two of Us.”

...And They Lived Happily Ever After

France

Production

A Pathe Distribution release of a Claude Berri presentation of a Hirsch, Pathe Renn, TF1 Films production. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Claude Berri. Executive producer, Pierre Grunstein. Directed, written by Yvan Attal.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Remy Chevrin; editor, Jennifer Auge; production designer, Katia Wiszkop; costume designer, Jacqueline Bouchard; sound (Dolby), Didier Sain, Jean-Paul Hurier, Jean Goudier, Marc Doisne; associate producer, Nathalie Rheims; assistant directors, Olivier Horlait, Antoine Gameau; casting, Laurent Soulet. Reviewed at Pathe screening room, Paris, Aug. 23, 2004. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 105 MIN.

With

Charlotte Gainsbourg, Yvan Attal, Alain Chabat, Alain Cohen, Emmanuelle Seigner, Angie David, Anouk Aimee, Claude Berri, Aurore Clement, Johnny Depp. (French, English dialogue)

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