A dashing young man loses his shoe as the clock strikes midnight in “Under the Rainbow,” the latest loquacious, entirely Gallic confection of star-writer-helmer Agnes Jaoui and thesp-scribe Jean-Pierre Bacri (“The Taste of Others,” “Look at Me”). The large cast of Parisian characters all need to face the fact that love, romance and its consequences are far more complex in real life than any fairy tale might suggest. Though perhaps a tad too convoluted, Jaoui and Bacri’s playful screenplay is witty and knowing, and the perfs are all first-rate, suggesting a decent B.O. pot of gold at home and in niche release abroad.
Instead of updating a single folk tale to a contempo setting, the screenwriters and co-stars populate their original choral narrative with variations on characters from different tales, such as the big bad wolf, the evil stepmother and the fairy godmother. Underneath the intricate tangle of stories lies the notion that fairy-tale romances are something some people perhaps need to believe in, but very few ever manage to attain.
Young Laura (Agathe Bonitzer) dreams of a Prince Charming, revealed to her by an angel, and finds him at a party in the form of Sandro (Arthur Dupont), who’s standing in front of a winged statue that points its finger at him the first time she sees him. Their first days together, shown in a montage sequence that involves lots of kissing in scenic Paris locations, are something of a dream.
The young couple’s relatives meet at an official function at which Laura’s father, Guillaume (Didier), a captain of industry, is awarded the Legion of Honor. Guillaume’s sister, Marianne (Jaoui), a struggling actress who’s putting on a fairy tale play with young children, and Sandro’s divorced father, Pierre (Bacri), strike up a conversation, and she decides to take driving lessons with him, the film’s welcome excuse for putting the two — both talented writers as well as thesps, with a real feel for the human tragedy of everyday life — behind the steering wheel together. Their hilarious conversation during Marianne’s second lesson goes right to the heart of the material.
But auds will need an inordinate amount of time to get a handle on the countless supporting characters. They include Laura’s plastic-surgery-addicted stepmother (Beatrice Rosen, hilariously glacial); Sandro’s mother (Dominique Valadie) and his father’s new partner, Eleonore (Valerie Crouzet), who has temporarily moved in with Pierre with her child from a previous relationship; Marianne’s ex-husband (Laurent Poitrenaux), whose child has become obsessed with the Bible; and Maxime (singer-thesp Benjamin Biolay, suave and oily), a music biz executive whose presence in the life of Sandro, a nascent composer, threatens Sandro’s dream romance with Laura.
Once the relationships finally start to crystallize about an hour in, the underlying themes become more apparent, and it’s clear that almost all of the characters believe or need to believe in something, whether it’s the Holy Scriptures, Prince Charming or, unfortunately for Pierre, a clairvoyant’s prediction of his date of death, just a few days away when the pic opens.
As in Jaoui and Bacri’s previous collaborations, the characters’ struggles to function in a romantic reality that includes divorces, cheating, children from previous marriages and careless playboys who don’t give a damn about a princess’s feelings, are at once astutely observed and fodder for tragicomic developments that are frequently funny as well as true.
Lubomir Bakchev’s lensing, with its occasional painterly touches, allows the actors enough room to play out their scenes with minimal cutting, while the fairy-tale theme is also echoed in the pic’s musical choices, Fernando Fiszbein’s classy score, Francois Emmanuelli’s production design (especially noteworthy is Guillaume’s garishly decorated chateau) and the work of ace costume designer Nathalie Raoul.