For These French Friends, A 'Change' Is Gonna Come

Karin Vaird, Pierre Arditi

hide captionLike Father, Like Daughter: All ML (Karin Viard) wants is to throw a successful dinner party. But her efforts keep getting foiled, thanks to unforeseen complications — such as her long-absent dad, Henri (Pierre Arditi), showing up unexpectedly.

IFC Films

Change of Plans

  • Director: Daniele Thompson
  • Genre: Foreign, Comedy
  • Running Time: 100 minutes
Not rated.

With: Karin Viard, Dany Boon, Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel

In French with English subtitles.

Three sets of unfaithful middle-aged spouses converge for a dinner party in Change of Plans, whose setup seems to promise an evening of bitter recriminations. Ah, but this is Paris, where they do cheating differently, and director and co-writer Daniele Thompson means to demonstrate that adultery can be a tonic for the bourgeois marriage.

The story begins on June 21, the longest day of the year and the date of Paris' annual Fete de la Musique street festival. Traffic is snarled by rappers, marching bands, rock groups and other musical troupes, and while the benign musical chaos supports the plot here and there, it does more for the movie's tone. Even when the subject turns to death, Change of Plans is as jaunty as the tunes that drive it.

The dinner's guest list remains in flux as hostess ML (Karin Viard), a divorce lawyer, juggles last-minute cell phone invites between her flamenco class and her new lover's calls. Her directionless husband, Piotr (Micmacs star Dany Boon), will be there, of course, as will ML's younger sister Juliette (Marina Hands), a costume designer, with her much older Breton beau, actor Erwann (Patrick Chesnais).

The first complication is the unexpected arrival of ML's father, Henri (Pierre Arditi), who hasn't spoken to Juliette in years. Piotr tells him he can spend the night, and additionally has invited Jean-Louis (Laurent Stocker), who built the new kitchen the dinner is designed to celebrate. Attempting to fix the boy-girl ratio, ML impulsively asks her dance teacher, Manuela (Blanca Li) to attend.

Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Karin Vaird, Christopher Thompson i i

hide captionMe And You And Everyone We Know: A gaggle of Gauls, including (from left) Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Karin Vaird and Christopher Thompson, gather for a dinner party in Change of Plans.

IFC Films
Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Karin Vaird, Christopher Thompson

Me And You And Everyone We Know: A gaggle of Gauls, including (from left) Marina Fois, Patrick Bruel, Karin Vaird and Christopher Thompson, gather for a dinner party in Change of Plans.

IFC Films

Also headed toward ML and Piotr's place are despairing oncologist Alain (Patrick Bruel) and his gynecologist wife, Melanie (Marina Fois), who plans to end their marriage soon. Attorney Lucas (Christopher Thompson, the director's son and co-writer) arrives without his wife, Sarah (Emmanuelle Seigner); the latter has just stormed out of the car during a tiff, and Lucas blandly offers her regrets, only to have her appear a few minutes later. Whereupon it turns out that sexy Sarah is an old college flame of glum Piotr, who's definitely in the mood to be reignited.

Too much company? Thompson has a thing for ensemble casts, and Change of Plans doesn't muster any more characters than her previous film, the delightful Avenue Montaigne. But where that comedy saw Paris through the eyes of a single character, this one is less focused. And just when it seems the 11 characters are going to reveal themselves, the story hops forward a full year, to show which relationships survived, which perished and which are about to shift again.

Change of Plans is certainly not going to convert skeptics of talky French cinema. Although elegantly structured, the movie is leisurely and its story, inevitably, a little diffuse. Thompson also indulges herself with cinematic inside jokes. (The end credits reveal that the recipe for Piotr's trademark Polish stew comes from director Roman Polanski, Seigner's husband.)

Yet Thompson's latest, if less assured than Avenue Montaigne, has its charms. The performances are sharp, and the gently comic dialogue doesn't strain for incongruous guffaws. Most importantly, the various characters' fates seem proper, as they should be in a comedy of manners. Change of Plans is a fantasy, of course, but one whose empathy for its wayward spouses suggests that the French approach to marriage can sometimes work out for the best.

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