All the elements are present and correct, but there's a lack of real bounce to "The Merry Widow," the much-anticipated sophomore outing by actress/writer-turned-director Isabelle Mergault after her 2006 hit "Je vous trouve tres beau." Experienced thesp Michele Laroque is fine as the titular character who's more than happy with her new status, but the whole ensemble rarely clicks into the high comic gear the storyline promises. Gauls are flocking to the mid-January release, which has taken a merry $8 million in its first two frames, but offshore biz looks to be more restrained for this likable but unexceptional romantic comedy.

All the elements are present and correct, but there’s a lack of real bounce to “The Merry Widow,” the much-anticipated sophomore outing by actress/writer-turned-director Isabelle Mergault after her 2006 hit “Je vous trouve tres beau.” Experienced thesp Michele Laroque is fine as the titular character who’s more than happy with her new status, but the whole ensemble rarely clicks into the high comic gear the storyline promises. Gauls are flocking to the mid-January release, which has taken a merry $8 million in its first two frames, but offshore biz looks to be more restrained for this likable but unexceptional romantic comedy.

In some respects, pic is almost the flipside to “Je vous trouve,” in which a doofus farmer suddenly becomes a widower and discreetly buys a Romanian bride. In “Widow,” Anne-Marie Gratigny (Laroque), who’s consistently humiliated by her pompous husband, Gilbert (Wladimir Yordanoff), sees the shackles of her marriage magically dissolve when the latter is killed in a car crash.

At the time of the accident, Anne-Marie is actually with her lover of two years, Leo (Jacques Gamblin), a boat-builder who’s about to go to China on business. Secretly delighted at the news of Gilbert’s demise, Anne-Marie has to feign grief in front of her sister Catherine (Eva Darlan), son Christophe (Tom Morton) and sister-in-law Viviane (Claire Nadeau), who are all cut up.

That’s not the only problem, as Anne-Marie’s plans to go off to China with Leo are scuttled when her relatives move in to help her in her supposed grief. The only one who really knows what’s going on is Anne-Marie’s maid, Nicole (vet Valerie Mairesse), though the diligently filial Christophe eventually tumbles to the truth.

Though the movie is essentially about one woman’s personal liberation via widowhood, much of the comedy stems from the fact that Anne-Marie, after years of marital abuse, can’t bring herself to enjoy her freedom by declaring the truth — which also puts a strain on her relatonship with Leo. Passing fun is had with her and Leo either trying to arrange trysts or almost being caught, and Laroque proves a game actress in an unusual role for her career.

However, there’s insufficient chemistry between Laroque and the rather cold Gamblin to motor the film’s emotional underpinnings in the way Michel Blanc and Medeea Marinescu bonded onscreen in “Je vous trouve.” Dialogue, too, though OK, is not quite as sharp, nor are the situations (in what is basically a one-idea movie) as inventive.

Within its limitations, ensemble work is fine, as is technical support. French title literally means “Finally a Widow.”

The Merry Widow

France

Production

A Gaumont release of an F Comme Film presentation of a Gaumont, F Comme Film, TF1 Films Prod. production. (International sales: Gaumont Intl., Paris.) Produced by Jean-Lous Livi. Directed by Isabelle Mergault. Screenplay, Mergault, Jean-Pierre Hasson.

Crew

Camera (color), Philippe Pavans de Ceccatty; editor, Veronique Parnet; music, Etienne Perruchon; art director, Bernard Vezat; costume designer, Charlotte Betaillole; sound (Dolby Digital), Eric Devulder; assistant director, Iris Wong. Reviewed at UGC Georges V 1, Jan. 16, 2008. Running time: 97 MIN.

Cast

With: Michele Laroque, Jacques Gamblin, Wladimir Yordanoff, Tom Morton, Valerie Mairesse, Claire Nadeau, Eva Darlan, Caroline Raynaud, Paul Crachet, Michel Lagueyrie, Choukri Gabteni, Franck Pitiot, Julien Cafaro, Agnes Boury, Tadrina Hocking.
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