Review: ‘Good Girl’

A breezy relationship comedy studded with whimsical touches that make it seem to teeter on the edge of fey, "Good Girl" remains charming thanks to perfs on just the right side of wry, led by Emmanuelle Devos showing ample comic skill. Name cast should boost Gaul release this winter, and may help "Good Girl" find a few nice niches offshore.

A breezy relationship comedy studded with whimsical touches that make it seem to teeter on the edge of fey, “Good Girl” remains charming thanks to perfs on just the right side of wry, led by Emmanuelle Devos showing ample comic skill. Directed with deadpan simplicity by writer-helmer Sophie Fillieres (“Ouch”), pic’s grounding in romantic comedy manners makes it a few shades more aud-friendly than work by Fillieres’ fellow post-surrealists like Eugene Green, Alain Guiraudie and Jean-Charles Fitoussi. But less meaty. Name cast should boost Gaul release this winter, and may help “Good Girl” find a few nice niches offshore.

Shapely Parisian Fontaine Leglou (Devos) works the night shift at a suburban sanitarium where, as per movie tradition, it’s hard to tell the inmates from the doctors. Her arctic scientist b.f. Michel Stroggoff (Bruno Todeschini), would like to marry her, but Fontaine is hesitant.

While dithering over Michel’s offer, Fontaine repeatedly chooses to make life more difficult for herself than it need be, for example by climbing a fence at work instead of using the entrance, or by swallowing Michel’s proffered engagement ring. (The nauseating retrieval seen on screen adds a Bunuelian touch.)

The strategy would seem masochistic if Devos and Fillieres didn’t play all this for nervous laughs. Although in French her name means something like “Fountain the Little Gurgle,” our heroine, an anesthetist in the story, keeps her emotions in such tight check her passions seem forced to spill out in irrational behavior.

Meanwhile, however much she loves Michel, Fontaine is not especially committed to monogamy. Dialogue indicates she was lovers some time ago with a co-worker. Early on, she accuses a stranger of stalking her and adds before he can say a word that she won’t go out with him. When he explains that he really is only coincidentally going in the same direction, she insists they meet up on a later day for a tryst.

Attractive depressed patient Philippe Philippe (Lambert Wilson), a doctor himself, really does stalk her.

All this gives pic’s French title “Gentille,” meaning “good girl” or “nice girl,” an ironic tang, and Fillieres may intend a light satire of bourgeois values and chick flick platitudes, although her ultimate intentions are never explicitly stated. However, pic’s very opacity may irritate more literal minded viewers intensely.

At least the cast seems to be not only in on, but enjoying the joke. They go about their business with sincerity and poised timing, as if they were in a farce by Georges Feydeau directed by Wes Anderson.

Tech package is trim and unobtrusive, with good use made of Paris locations in and around the Pompidou Center and outer ‘burbs.

Good Girl

France

Production

A Pierre Grise Prods., Arte France Cinema production, with the participation of FMB2 Films, CNC, Canal+, TPS Star, with the support of La Region Ile-de-France, Procirep, MEDIA. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Martine Marignac, Maurice Tinchant. Executive producer, Christian Lambert. Directed, written by Sophie Fillieres.

Crew

Camera (color), Christophe Pollock; editor, Valerie Loiseleux; production designer, Cecile Navarro, set designer, Antoine Platteau; sound (Dolby Digital), Frederic Ullman, Bernadette Thiboud, Jean-Pierre Laforce. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 15, 2005. (Also in London Film Festival.) Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Emmanuelle Devos, Bruno Todeschini, Lambert Wilson, Michel Londsdale, Bulle Ogier, Julie-Anne Roth, Nicolas Briancon, Michel Vuillermoz, Magali Woch.
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