Opens Fri., July 2
How respected are married screenwriters Agnès Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri? Director Alain Resnais gave them their own TomKat/Bennifer-esque portmanteau: “Jabac.” Resnais granted the two actors-turned-filmmakers their big writing break in the ‘90s, when he filmed their scripts for Smoking/No Smoking and the delightful meta-musical Same Old Song . The two soon lit out on their own, making a couple of bourgie dramedies that got close to, but nimbly avoided, being too art-house middlebrow. Their latest, Let It Rain , isn’t exactly a tumble into safe banality, but it’s frustrating—a direction-handicapped muddle that could only come from true talent.
As usual, the filmmakers do their own acting. Jaoui plays Agathe, a feminist author and politician belatedly returning home to help her sister (Pascale Arbillot) sell the family house, a full year after their mother’s death. A similar setup drove Olivier Assayas’ terrific Summer Hours (plus The Cherry Orchard ), but rather than get caught up in an ethical dilemma, Agathe gets distracted by two filmmakers: frustrated hotel clerk Karim (scrunchy-faced Jamel Debbouze) and washed-up has-been Michel (Bacri). The two want to make a documentary on strong women, but attempts to interview Agathe only open up feelings of inadequacy, obsolescence and general failure for everyone.
What results is a loose film of ideas— too loose. Jaoui and Bacri introduce heady issues; in one thread, Agathe’s failure to settle down in middle age is equated, somewhat annoyingly, with the supposed failure of modern-day feminism. But whenever things threaten to get too brainy, it quickly retreats into light comedy—the kind of Gallic humor that’s generally only funny in the theoretical sense. (The many, many scenes of Karim and Michel trying to interview Agathe are only amusing because of Jaoui’s trademark pinched, vaguely pissy shtick.) And if the dense neuroses of its characters promise a bittersweet ending, don’t worry; it’s happy endings for everyone. But minor works like this serve a purpose, allowing artists to get so-so ideas out of their system. Next time, Jabac.