When a mom and her daughter fall for the same guy, the result is plenty of ooh-la-las but few actual laughs in Gallic helmer Pierre Salvadori’s tried-and-tested romantic comedy, “Beautiful Lies.” Despite a cast toplined by Audrey Tautou (who, as if to incite further mispronunciation of her name, sports a large tattoo on her neck), this long-winded assembly of quid pro quos and borderline sexist banter goes only to the most predictable places. Salvadori (“Priceless”) has fared much, much better with such farcical material in the past, and the pic may perform below expectations before rebounding on the French tube.
Provincial hairdresser Emilie (Tautou), not to be mistaken for Amelie, runs her beauty parlor with an iron fist, especially when it comes to dealing with hunky Arab handyman Jean (Sami Bouajila). When she finds out Jean is an overeducated translator who speaks at least five languages, this infuriates her to the point that she fires him. (Why she does this is never entirely clear, though she seems to have a major inferiority complex when it comes to intelligent men.)
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Little does Emilie know (or perhaps she doesn’t want to know) that Jean is madly in love with her. When he sends her an anonymous letter at the start of the film, she tosses it in the garbage, then decides to fish it out, copy it over and mail it to her depressed, recently dumped mom, Maddy (Nathalie Baye), a woman so starved for a man that she wanders the streets in a bathrobe looking for the letter’s author.
Maddy eventually stumbles upon Jean, and the ensuing confusion, which lasts at least a full hour, leads to lots of deadweight jokes involving Mom’s relentless sex drive. Soon enough, Emilie’s own feelings for Jean awaken, and the two ladies, easily 30 years apart, are thrown into a veritable mommy-daughter showdown in which Emilie’s “true lies” (as the original title explains) come back to haunt her.
Surely such a tale could take place only in France, and the morality of sleeping with your mom’s boyfriend hardly comes into play here. Instead, Salvadori and regular co-scribe Benoit Graffin focus on the war between Emilie’s suppressed libido and Maddy’s oversized one, with the rather endearing Jean caught in between. In the end, he winds up being the pic’s one redeemable character, which says a great deal about the filmmakers’ view of their supposedly sweet-natured female protags.
Doing what they must with the script’s vaudeville-style scenarios, Tautou and Baye can only go so far playing two women on estrogen overdrive. Bouajila (“Outside the Law”) is more subdued, and Jean seems to watch the proceedings with a mix of horror and resignation. Supporting roles are often caricatures of small-town simplemindedness.
Standard tech package is highlighted by Emilie’s garish and overlit hair salon.