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Film Review: ‘Stand by Love’

It's going to be a bumpy flight for two ex-lovers in this glossy, cliched French romantic comedy

It’s going to be a bumpy flight for two ex-lovers who are accidentally seated next to each other on a plane in “Stand by Love,” Alexandre Castagnetti’s glossy, cliched French romantic comedy adapted from a screenplay by Yank thesp-scribe Vincent Angell (2009 TV series “The Beast”). On her way back from New York, an about-to-be-married sculptress, played by a vivacious Ludivine Sagnier, has to spend hours talking with a debonair cad she once dated, prompting a severe case of recurring flashback-itis. Though uneven, the pic should coast to respectable numbers locally and see some offshore action.  

A Gotham-set prologue somewhat crudely telegraphs what auds need to know about the characters: Antoine (Nicolas Bedos, in his first starring role) is a handsome but heartless Casanova — he wakes up handcuffed in a sea of empty bottles and nameless babes — and Julie (Sagnier) is a cutesy yet earthy Zooey Deschanel type (except French, and blonde) who plasters the walls with colored sticky notes so she won’t forget all the things she has to do before she leaves for the airport.

After they both make it onto the fully booked early-morning flight to Paris and Julie is upgraded to business class, they find themselves in adjacent seats. It’s not a happy reunion: Julie broke up with Antoine three years earlier and they haven’t spoken since. The initial back-and-forth banter suggests a verbal sparring match are on the inflight menu, and indeed, there are some deliciously prickly exchanges — Antoine calls himself a “bon vivant,” Julie prefers the term “alcoholic” — and a flashback to their first encounter dares to suggest that she’s intrigued by him exactly because he’s such a walking cliche (“I’ve never gone out with an asshole before; you’ve got one hour,” she says when he asks her out).

But the pic, adapted from Angell’s original screenplay by a staggering six writers (including the helmer and Bedos), quickly paints itself into a corner. It’s nearly impossible to generate any sympathy for Antoine, a stereotype whose charm and quick wit mask a nonentity, and with each flashback to their relationship, the film drifts further onto romantic-comedy autopilot, barely bothering to illuminate character or spring any narrative surprises. And long before Castagnetti uses explicit images from the Kama Sutra in a montage sequence, it’s clear subtlety was never part of the pic’s agenda.

If the enterprise remains watchable, it’s mainly thanks to the effortless-seeming work of Sagnier, whose rare combination of effervescence and casual intelligence ensures that Julie is more complex and likable than Antoine, even though she’s saddled with a scene of pathological jealousy that seems entirely out of character.

Bedos, son of comedian-actor Guy Bedos and better known in Gaul as a writer for theater and television, certainly has Antoine’s natural arrogance and charisma down pat. But the film takes its time slowly revealing the character as a misunderstood softie with commitment issues; auds will be weary of him long before the last-minute change of heart that ensures a happy ending.

Technically, “Stand by Love” is solidly assembled, with sleek widescreen lensing and the requisite English-language songs on the soundtrack furthering the air of Anglo-Saxon sophistication. Editor Scott Stevenson has some fun letting scenes spill over into each other, as when a bedroom in a flashback starts to shake before the pic cuts back to the plane mid-turbulence.

Stand by Love
Amour & turbulences

A Universal Pictures Intl. France release of a Reverence, Manchester Films, Thelma Films, Universal Pictures Intl. France production, in association with Indefilms, Kinology. (International sales: Kinology, Paris.) Produced by Mathieu Robinet, Julien Ralanto, Catherine Bozorgan, Christine Gozlan, David Poirot.

Directed by Alexandre Castagnetti. Screenplay, Nirina Ralanto, Brigitte Bemol, Julien Simonet, Xavier Nemo, Castagnetti, Nicolas Bedos, based on an original screenplay by Vincent Angell. Camera (color, Panavision widescreen, HD), Yannick Ressigeac; editor, Scott Stevenson; music, Nicolas Wauquiez, Evymoon; production designer, Francois Emmanuelli; costume designer, Emmanuelle Youchnovski; sound (Dolby Digital), Jean-Paul Bernard; special effects, Compagnie Generale des Effets Visuels; assistant director, Dominique Furge; casting, Martin Rougier. Reviewed at UGC Les Halles, Paris, April 4, 2013. Running time: 96 MIN.

Cast: Ludivine Sagnier, Nicolas Bedos, Jonathan Cohen, Arnaud Ducret, Brigitte Catillon, Jackie Berroyer, Clementine Celarie, Michel Vuillermoz, Lisa Salet, Ina Castagnetti, Sophie-Charlotte Husson.
(French, English dialogue)

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