'Change of Plans' mines comedy from the life cycles of French 40-somethings.

'Change of Plans' Finds Humor in Mid-Life

Dennis Harvey September 9, 2010

The French have a particular knack for ensemble seriocomedies with an emphasis on the comic, but room enough to take the characters’ foibles and feelings seriously. That cinematic line stretches Marcel Pagnol through Renoir, Rohmer and the later, lighter Resnais, continuing in such recent successes as Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Story and Agnes Jaoui’s Let It Rain.

Avenue Montaigne director Danièle Thompson’s latest, Change of Plans, which opens Friday on the SFFS Screen at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, fits firmly into that tradition. Cowritten with her past collaborator (and son) Christopher Thompson, it charts an eventful year in the lives of a dozen or so disparate Parisians—albeit in before-and-after terms, starting out with a dinner party one June 21 then eventually cutting between it and the greatly changed circumstances these characters find themselves in 365 days later.

That particular date happens to be when the city’s “Fete de la musique” happens, a street musical festival whose traffic snarl figures into the narrative. It impedes the arrival of some guests to a supper thrown by Marie-Lawrence aka ML (Karin Viard) and her husband Piotr (Dany Boon). She’s a waspish divorce lawyer, while he’s awkwardly between careers; her dissatisfaction with his rudderlessness no doubt contributed to her having an affair with Jean-Louis (Laurent Stocker), who’s just remodeled their kitchen. She wants that dalliance to end, but he’s smitten—in large part because it’s the hottest sex he’s ever had, something he enthuses about on the phone to his mother (!).

Other guests include gynecologist Melanie (Marina Fois), who’s secretly considering ending her own marriage to adoring oncologist Alain (Patrick Bruel); the more overtly strained couple of criminal lawyer Lucas (co-scenarist Christopher Thompson) and prickly, glamorous would-be author Sarah (Emmanuelle Seigner); ML’s younger costume-designer sister Juliette (Marina Hands) and her current companion, dour much-older actor Erwann (Patrick Chesnais); plus lone single (hostess-pining Jean-Louis aside) Manuela (Blanci Li), an ebullient flamenco teacher.

The long evening features some flareups—not just within the 40-something married couples, also from Juliette, who becomes incensed when she realizes the father (Pierre Arditi) she’s been estranged from ever since he left their late mother is arriving to stay the night with his older daughter. Nonetheless, a pretty good time (and a lot of great-looking food) is pretty much had by all.

Halfway through, Change of Plans leaps exactly a year forward. It’s “Fete de la musique” day again, but more importantly also the evening that Manuela’s dream project—a multicultural restaurant and cultural center—finally opens, something that many of the people she’d met at ML and Piotr’s are now involved in or at least rooting for. The intervening months have wrought other major changes on their guests and their relationships, some fissured, others emerging stronger. One affair has ended and a different one commenced. One character has had a very serious, life-altering accident, while another gets surprising health-related news of an entirely different nature.

Watching Change of Plans is akin to reading a fat, plotty, sprawling, enjoyable novel. It packs some surprises of both the funny and fateful varieties and allows characters that at first border on one-dimensionality room to make credible decisions and sacrifices that reveal unexpected depths. You’ve seen variations on all its themes before, no doubt in other French movies. But does one ever tire of them? Not when managed with the sprightly imagination Thompson deploys here.