Review: ‘Nowhere To Go But Up’

An odd trifle about a young French actress determined to conquer Manhattan, Amos Kollek's "Nowhere to Go but Up" (aka "Happy End") lands with a thud. Despite an energetic central perf by Audrey Tautou, mix of whimsy and vulgarity in the industrious, yet generic, screenplay never coalesces. Pic's theatrical prospects appear modest.

An odd trifle about a young French actress determined to conquer Manhattan, Amos Kollek’s “Nowhere to Go but Up” (aka “Happy End”) lands with a thud. Despite an energetic central perf by versatile Audrey Tautou, mix of whimsy and vulgarity in the industrious, yet generic, screenplay never coalesces. Pic’s theatrical prospects appear modest even in Europe, where Kollek’s reputation rests mostly on his genuinely exceptional Anna Thompson-starrer, “Sue” (1997). Curiosity factor should function well when pic hits video outlets.

Chipper Val Chipzik (Tautou) is homeless but enterprising. Between auditions, she sweeps sidewalks, cleans toilets and scrubs floors. Her goal is to be a star, in order to make good on a promise to her illiterate mom back in Gaul who has never left their humble village. (Why Val speaks to her mom in English over the phone is a mystery.)

Because she often sleeps in the foliage around his Lower Manhattan stoop, Val ends up inspiring morose screenwriter Jack Gardner (Justin Theroux). Latter hit it very big very young but, to the dismay of his agent (Laila Robbins), he has been blocked — and impotent — for more than five years. Jack still pines for his ex-wife, Beatrix (Catherine Curtain).

Val bounces from job to job, essaying unpaid roles from Quasimodo to Cinderella, and is a temporary roommate to lesbian poetess-cum-waitress Edna (an unbridled Jennifer Tilly). While turning down lecherous producers, Val generally holds out for the rewards of hard work and good fortune.

Pic’s deplorably substandard musical interludes are gratuitous at best, with Tilly’s ditty about her overactive sweat glands particularly baffling. Theroux convinces in a thankless but crucial role, and Tautou gamely roller skates, dances, and speaks English with a put-on German accent as well as her authentic French one. Other thesps — playing archetypes that are more like typos — range from trying too hard to not trying hard enough.

Adequately lensed venture is permeated with a feel for summery New York. And pic does feature a few genuinely clever ruses for surviving on the street (such as how to get your laundry done for free). Digs at Hollywood fall flat, since this quasi-indie effort is not a superior alternative.

Nowhere To Go But Up

France-Germany

Production

A Mars Distribution release (in France) of an Alain Sarde and Frederic Robbes presentation of a Les Film Alain Sarde, FRP (France)/Pandora Film production. (International sales: Wild Bunch, Paris.) Produced by Alain Sarde, Frederic Robbes. Co-producers, Reinhard Brundig, Avram Ludwig. Directed, written by Amos Kollek.

Crew

Camera (color), Ken Kelsch; editors, Jeffrey Harkavy, Luc Barnier; music, Chico Freeman; production designer, Deana Sidney; costume designer, Kathryn Nixon; sound (Dolby); associate producer, Christine Gozlan; casting, Susan Shopmaker. Reviewed at UGC Orient Express, Paris, Dec. 26, 2003. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Audrey Tautou, Justin Theroux, Jennifer Tilly, Catherine Curtain, Laila Robbins, Frank Pellegrino, Jenna Lamia, Juan Carlos Hernandez. (English dialogue)
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