'The Adopted'

A rock-solid female triumvirate consisting of a French mother and her two daughters threatens to fall apart when one of the siblings starts a relationship with (gasp!) a man in "The Adopted."

A rock-solid female triumvirate consisting of a French mother and her two daughters threatens to fall apart when one of the siblings starts a relationship with (gasp!) a man in “The Adopted.” Directorial debut of Gallic thesp Melanie Laurent (“Inglourious Basterds”) plays like a schematic American indie, piling on the quirkiness, plot twists and musical cues, with practically the sole differences being that it’s set in Lyon and in French. Glossy almost to the point of requiring sunglasses to watch it, the pic found a niche femme aud locally and could appeal to a similar demographic offshore.

Pretty musician Lisa (Laurent) observes in an opening voiceover that, as a child, she wanted to be “a champion of everything,” and her young son, Leo (Theodore Maquet-Foucher), wanted to be Zorro when he grew up, but that “no one became what they dreamed of becoming.” Early scene already signals Laurent’s penchant for combining cute idiosyncrasies with a faux rough-edged sentimentality, the kind that comes cushioned in elegant montage sequences and soothing pop-rock, in ways reminiscent of the work of Miranda July and Mike Mills (perhaps not coincidentally, Laurent co-starred in Mills’ recent “Beginners”).

Pic proper is divided into three parts, with the first dedicated to Lisa’s adopted sister, Marie (Marie Denarnaud). Her character is intelligent, cultured and in touch with her emotions, as deduced from the facts that her favorite film is “Charade” and she works in an Anglophile bookstore. Marie, Lisa and their slightly alcoholic mother (Clementine Celarie) form a triangular zone of girl power where the pint-sized Leo is the only male tolerated (Leo’s father is conspicuous by his absence).

Things change when a huggable teddy bear, Alex (Denis Menochet), walks into the store where Marie works and they fall in love after she’s sold him a collection of Carver short stories. Lisa finds it hard to adjust to a world where she has to compete with others for Marie’s attention, and their co-dependent sisterly rapport deteriorates en route to a dramatic event, some 30 minutes in, that indelibly alters what had once seemed an indestructible relationship.

Laurent, who co-wrote the screenplay with Morgan Perez and Chris Deslandes, is the focus of the second half-hour, which is the least interesting of the three. However, it does allow spindly thesp Audrey Lamy to develop her supporting turn as the bookstore owner whose dial is always on indignant, one of the film’s few sources of character-based (rather than simply cutesy) humor.

The pic’s last segment is close to the p.o.v. of the male intruder, Alex, who has grown closer to his initial adversary, Lisa. Their developing fondness for each other convinces but never surprises; an exception is a beautifully handled scene of raw emotions in which the adults discuss important matters at the kitchen table while the camera is on the floor in the adjacent room, next to Leo as he plays with his toys.

Quirky-schmaltzy onscreen emotions are wrapped in a shiny tech package; Arnaud Potier’s lensing, with its milky lighting and artful use of darkness and shallow focus, perfectly complements Stanislas Reydellet’s pastel-dominated production design. Sound design is similarly devoid of spontaneity. Several random-feeling crosscuts suggest some last-minute edits.

The Adopted

France

Production

A Studiocanal release and presentation of a Movemovie production, in association with TF1 Films Prod., Canal Plus, Cinecinema, Arte. (International sales: Studiocanal, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Levy. Directed by Melanie Laurent. Screenplay, Laurent, Morgan Perez, Chris Deslandes.

Crew

Camera (color), Arnaud Potier; editor, Guerric Catala; music, Jonathan Moral; production designer, Stanislas Reydellet; costume designer, Maira Ramedhan Levi; sound (Dolby Digital), Cyril Moisson; casting, Coralie Subert. Reviewed at Cine Cite Les Halles, Paris, Nov. 23, 2011. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Melanie Laurent, Marie Denarnaud, Denis Menochet, Clementine Celarie, Audrey Lamy, Theodore Maquet-Foucher, Morgan Perez, Nicolas Medad.

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