A genre mashup that keeps auds amused from beginning to end, French-Canadian film “Liverpool” is entertaining, but lacks the memorable characters or ripostes that might have made it a classic. Story of a coat-check girl who gets sucked into a vortex of criminal activity is held together by the clever paradox of scribe-helmer Manon Briand’s story, which forces the quirky characters to use the latest technology to help unearth a conspiracy surrounding electronic junk such as discarded computers. Indie-minded Francophone auds should tune in, with wider circulation more likely through fest and VOD channels.
Mousy Quebecois Emilie (Stephanie Lapointe) works in the titular Montreal nightclub, though as the wardrobe attendant, she seems to go unnoticed by everyone, with the notable exception of an equally shy Internet whiz, Stephane (Charles-Alexandre Dube). When a femme clubber is rushed to the hospital after a drug overdose, Emilie, at the end of her shift, decides to return the woman’s coat with the help of the hotel-room key she finds in the jacket.
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Stephane, who’s been trying to work up the courage to talk to her, follows Emilie after work; this turns out to be a blessing in disguise, as, after a couple of wrong decisions and casual coincidences, Emilie finds herself in a serious mess. The coatless clubgoer has died, and Emilie unwittingly has taken her place, becoming part of a mysterious scam set up by a jealous heir (Louis Morissette).
Using social networks and other technological gadgets and programs, Stephane and Emilie go hunting for clues, turning “Liverpool” into a 21st-century detective story, and providing the two bashful romantics with a topic to talk about and the perfect excuse to spend some time together.
Particularly in the film’s rousing finale, Briand niftily underlines how technology has completely changed the way people behave and interact. “It’s not cool to be a real person anymore,” a character remarks in a bar whose patrons are all staring at their own little screens instead of talking with each other. Pic lucidly suggests that hi-tech changes have solved some problems and created others, such as the tendency of developed nations to simply dump toxic electronic waste in Third World countries.
One of “Liverpool’s” pleasures is the way it constantly shifts gears, switching among eccentric character study, dreamy romantic comedy, ecological thriller and a few other genres, keeping auds unaware of what lies around the corner. And with the investigation providing a narrative throughline, topical coherence and an overarching techno theme, the tonally shape-shifting story feels surprisingly coherent. But though the agreeable onscreen presence and mutual complicity of Lapointe and Dube provide additional glue, the dialogue only rarely becomes cult-classic quotable and the overall concoction, while fluid, lacks that spark of madcap genius that would elevate it to a higher plane.
Despite the number of product-placed gizmos onscreen, this is one of the rare instances in which their presence is both ambiguous and a narrative necessity. Technically, the film is solidly assembled, with d.p. Claudine Sauve’s lensing providing a classy sheen, and Ramachandra Borcar’s song choices and retro-Hitchcockian score perfectly fitting the film’s potent mix of future-is-now technology and cultural-romantic nostalgia.