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Toronto Film Review: ‘Bright Days Ahead’

Lame humor and underdeveloped drama plague this trite tale starring Fanny Ardant as a woman having an affair with a man two decades years her junior.

With:

Fanny Ardant, Laurent Lafitte, Patrick Chesnais, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Fanny Cottencon, Catherine Lachens, Alain Cauchi, Marie Riviere, Marc Chapiteau, Feodor Atkine.

Sixty-four-year-old Fanny Ardant has an affair with 41-year-old Laurent Lafitte in “Bright Days Ahead,” and that’s pretty much all there is to Marion Vernoux’s trite MILF tale. Lame humor and underdeveloped drama make little of the sexual-revival-in-late-life theme, instead simply placing all the chips on the femme star’s undeniable, undimmed glamour — though it hardly seems boundary-pushing that a younger man might desire someone like Ardant, who probably wears the same snug jeans size she did at 24. Pedestrian pic should prove an easy crowdpleaser for older fest auds and Ardant’s loyal fans, but this Tribeca Film U.S. pickup looks to be a minor item elsewhere.

Having abandoned her dental practice a bit ahead of schedule over a dispute with a colleague, and having lost her best friend to cancer recently as well, Caroline (Ardant) doesn’t really know what to do with her sudden surplus of free time. Two daughters, now married with kids of their own, get her a trial membership to the titular local senior center, which on a first visit she finds offensively condescending toward its clientele. But when her longtime spouse, Philippe (Patrick Chesnais), can’t figure out what’s wrong with his PC, she reluctantly returns to take a computer class.

She finds herself starting to enjoy the various activities offered (pottery, wine tasting, nature walks, etc.), as well as the new friends she makes there, none more than attractive younger computer instructor Julien (Lafitte), and after little hesitation, they embark on a secret, highly physical involvement. It doesn’t remain secret for long among the center’s bemused patrons and staff. Last to know — though her uncharacteristically giddy behavior and frequent absences tip him off soon enough — is Philippe, who does not take lightly this betrayal or his wife’s unapologetic response when confronted. Then again, Julien doesn’t seem a very reliable fresh-start alternative, as he admits to being a sexual free agent, disinclined to commit to any one relationship.

But Caroline never seems all that concerned about her future, her family’s feelings or anything else. She’s an elegant blank filled only by Ardant’s reliable star magnetism, just as Julien has little personality beyond the charm Lafitte brings to the role. (Playing the one character whose actions are more understandable than arbitrary, Chesnais gets default acting honors here.)

Breezy to a flyweight fault, in a fashion more careless than carefree, Vernoux’s feature (based on a novel by co-scenarist Fanny Chesnel) doesn’t build the sense that much is at stake here, and its comedy is mostly of the banal plucky-oldsters-not-acting-their-age variety. Routine assembly will lose nothing on the smallscreen.

Toronto Film Review: 'Bright Days Ahead'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Gala Presentations), Sept. 11, 2013. Running time: 94 MIN. Original title: "Les beaux jours"

Production:

(France) A Tribeca Film (in U.S.) release of a Les Films du Kiosque and 27.11 Prod. production. (International sales: Le Pacte, Paris.) Produced by Francois Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne, Juliette Favreul Renaud.

Crew:

Directed by Marion Vernoux. Screenplay, Fanny Chesnel, Vernoux, based on the novel "Une jeune fille aux cheveau blancs" by Chesnel. Camera (color, HD), Nicolas Gaurin; editor, Benoit Quinon; music, Quentin Sirjacq; production designer, Herve Duhamel; costume designer, Marite Coutard; sound (Dolby Digital), Michel Casang; re-recording mixer, Dominique Gaborieau; assistant director, Ariel Sctrick; casting, Richard Rousseau.

With:

Fanny Ardant, Laurent Lafitte, Patrick Chesnais, Jean-Francois Stevenin, Fanny Cottencon, Catherine Lachens, Alain Cauchi, Marie Riviere, Marc Chapiteau, Feodor Atkine.

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