A charmingly barbed critique of American-style competitiveness versus French-style savoir-vivre, “18 Years Later” is a lilting multi-generational comedy about the transformative power of love. But it’s good scripter-helmer Coline Serreau’s sequel to her 1985 monster hit “Three Men and a Cradle” has so much going for it on the narrative and thesping fronts because, as with her previous pic, the hard-hitting “Chaos,” the digital video images are so damn ugly they almost capsize an otherwise skillful piece of entertainment. Prognosis for Gaul, where main characters — all played by the original pic’s cast — are part of the national collective consciousness, looks sweet.
Precisely because everyone “knows” the backstory, pic plunges right in without explaining why Marie (Madeleine Besson), just one month shy of her 18th birthday, lives in a huge Paris apartment with three middle-aged men, all of whom she addresses as “Dad.”
In first pic, the infant Marie was left on the landing of an apartment where airline steward Jacques (Andre Dussollier), comic book illustrator Michel (Michel Boujenah) and engineer Pierre (Roland Giraud) lived a confirmed bachelor lifestyle. Baby’s mom, Sylvia (Philippine Leroy-Beaulieu), whose work in fashion required a six month trip to the U.S., parked Marie there as Jacques is the child’s biological father. At first overwhelmed by caring for a teething dependent life form, trio of roommates not only got the hang of parenting but bonded for life with the little critter.
A runaway success in Gaul, original pic was released worldwide and inspired the Leonard Nimoy-helmed remake “Three Men and a Baby” (1987) which in turn spawned its own sequel, 1990’s “Three Men and a Little Lady.”
New pic is set in the exact same enviably huge apartment. Action opens on morning Marie, now a slightly pudgy but pretty student, must take her baccalaureate exam to graduate from high school. Her doting dads sense this is the demarcation point.
Exam duly passed, Marie joins her recently-wed mom for summer vacation in a rented villa in the South of France. Along for the trip from their California base are Sylvia’s American husband John (Ken Samuels) and his two cusp-of-adulthood sons, muscular golden boy Jack (Gregoire Lavollay-Porter) and physically inept nerd, Arthur (James Thierree).
To help run the household, the cross-cultural brood has hired Julie (Line Renaud), a wise and peppy senior citizen with some unusual cargo in her hefty up-market luggage. An aggressively fit go-getter with a congenital need to micro-manage, John speaks a smattering of French but his sons don’t speak a word.Opportunities for deftly observed situational comedy multiply when Marie’s best friend Ludovica (Lolita Chammah) and her little brother Amos (Nathanael Serreau) join the extended family, along with Jacques, Michel and Pierre.
With a light, organic touch, Serreau explores the pitfalls of middle-aged romance among vets on both sides of the sexual revolution, semi-affectionately nails the impatient American approach to simple pleasures and — via Ludovica and Amos’ mother Natacha (Evelyne Buyle) — shows the frank difficulties of working single moms.
One of many treats for fans of the original is the return of the patient pharmacist (Annik Alane) who guided the lads through the jungle of baby formulasand now dispenses advice about Viagra.
One of Serreau’s specialties — scenes in which fed up characters drop all pretense of civility and tell others exactly what they think of them — operates with comic precision at several choice junctures.
Score, which ranges from Bach and Mozart to salsa to three melodies composed by Serreau herself, is nicely integrated.
Only sour note remains the look. Roving, supple camera puts us squarely in pic’s whirlwind of emotional and physical activity, but proceedings are too often carelessly lit and needlessly cheesy in appearance. Although the intellect is duly tickled and the heart warmed, there’s no excuse for short-changing the eye to this degree.